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Q&A: IBM Global Business Services CTO Talks Cloud

IBM Fellow and Global Business Services CTO Kerrie Holley, who helped shape SOA, shares his thoughts on cloud trends, the future of IT, and more.

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InformationWeek: I'd be curious to hear your assessment of the patent situation in technology, because it's a very contentious one, and some people have very differing opinions about both the patent time period being appropriated across all industries, and also the extent to which patents should be applied to things like software and whether the terms should be more flexible.

Holley: It's a great question. We were one of the big proponents of not doing so many process-based patents. So I think that was a good choice and a good decision because patents, I think, should be about things that we can physically touch and see, software being something we actually can sort of touch and see. At the same time, I think that innovation should be rewarded. When people create things that are new to the marketplace, I do think that they should be rewarded.

That's just my philosophical perspective. But I do think, at the same time, I know that we have a lot of joint agreements with companies who are both our competitors and our partners, where we jointly license our patents to each other, and I think that's the right decision to make our market more healthy.

I think that most companies would agree that companies that are strictly in the business of being predatory around their patents is not good for the industry, that what we really want to do is not to stop growth and innovation but to encourage it, and so I think the cross licensing is a great way to accelerate that.

In terms of my own patents, you know a lot of my patents for the general market would be perhaps obscure might be the word. A lot of them are in the area of SOA. One that I find interesting I only came up with it because I was losing my cell phone constantly and frustrated with the fact that my carrier couldn't help me locate it. So I came up with a patent on how to identify, locate, and secure a lost, high-value mobile device.

One of the ones I'm also pretty excited about is something we just filed recently around business agility.

InformationWeek: What do you think about the patent term being the same across industries? Some people argue that a 17-year term may be appropriate for a pharmaceutical patent but not for software, given how quickly the industry changes.

Holley: I'd say it's a great point. I actually have never thought about it before. I think there are some differences I would argue so I could see the argument to why the period should be shorter, but I would also be cautious. I think one of the reasons you have this time window is because sometimes the ability to apply the patent--and maybe that should be the test versus a window of time--is because sometimes the patents are ahead of the other innovations that will use them which is not true in the pharmaceutical industry, right?

Those patents will be used and applied immediately, whereas in the software field we might find some patents ahead of their time that have actually created something that could be used but it may be four or five years before other things are in place. So I think it's a bit more complex ... I can see both sides.

InformationWeek: Who do you see as competitors at the moment?

Holley: Well, we compete with the big companies like Accenture. We compete with a lot of boutique firms as well, but Capgemini, Accenture, so the whole legacy of the whole big six are still our competitors. ... We have to offer value propositions that make sense, that offers the IT department and the business a better alternative. We're sort of competing with ourselves. We're constantly trying to offer opportunities for them to do better with us than they could do on their own.

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