As Nick Donofrio is fond of insisting, there is no "'next big thing,' only next big things, maybe thousands, even trillions." But some really singular big things have come out of IBM's past -- the punched card tabulating machine, the scanning tunneling microscope, superconductors, RISC computing, the relational database and the "Winchester" hard disk drive. Another big thing: IBM's earnings from its patent portfolio. Intellectual property royalties from 1993-2002 total $10 billion. The following samples the 3,288 patents IBM was awarded last year. They anticipate the coming era of e-business on demand and suggest how the company will extend its technology lead in critical areas such as autonomic computing, grid computing and nanotechnology.
- Sharing computing tasks over a network: This breakthrough allows a computer to call for "help" and send jobs or tasks to other computers over a network. The "helper" computer will automatically perform the assigned tasks and return the results to the requesting computer. (Patent 6356929: Computer system and method for sharing a job with other computers on a computer network using IP multicast).
- Detecting environmental impact on system faults: An important step toward self-healing computers, this patent details a method for a computer to monitor itself and determine if its environment is causing a fault or failure of components in the system, such as the power supplies or cooling components. (Patent 6345369: Environmental and power error handling extension and analysis for systems with redundant components).
- Automatic network reconnection: This patent describes how a computer can automatically detect when it has been moved in a work environment and will subsequently establish new network settings to reconnect to the network. (Patent 6412025: Apparatus and method for automatic configuration of personal computer system when reconnected to network).
- Manufacturing carbon nanotubes: Extending IBM's lead in fundamental nanotechnolgy, this patent describes a method for controllably modifying nanotubes for the fabrication of electronic devices such as field-effect transistors. (Patent 6423583: Methodology for electrically induced selective breakdown of nanotubes).