IBM overhauls rewards program for staff inventions, wipes away cash points

Big Blue staffers aren't pleased to lose out on potential bonuses

Exclusive IBM has rejigged a program that rewarded inventors at Big Blue for patents or publications, leaving some angry that they are missing out on potential bonuses.

By scrapping and replacing the scheme, a source told The Register, IBM has eliminated a financial liability by voiding the accrued, unredeemed credits issued to program participants that could have been converted into potential cash awards.

For years, IBM has sponsored an "Invention Achievement Award Plan" to incentivize employee innovation. In exchange for filing patents, or for publishing articles that served as defense against rival patents, IBM staff were awarded points that led to recognition and potentially cash bonuses.

According to documentation seen by The Register, "Invention points are awarded to all inventors listed on a successful disclosure submission."

One point was awarded for publishing. Three points were awarded for filing a patent or four if the filing was deemed high value. For accruing 12 points, program participants would get a payout.

"Inventors reach an invention plateau for every 12 points they achieve – which must include at least one file decision," the rules state. And for each plateau achieved, IBM would pay its inventors $1,200 in recognition of their efforts.

No longer, it seems. IBM canceled the program at the end of 2023 and replaced it with a new one that uses a different, incompatible point system called BluePoints.

"The previous Invention Achievement Award Plan will be sunset at midnight (eastern time) on December 31st, 2023," company FAQs explain. "Since Plateau awards are one of the items being sunset, plateau levels must be obtained on or before December 31, 2023 to be eligible for the award. Any existing plateau points that have not been applied will not be converted to BluePoints."

We're told that IBM's invention review process could take months, meaning that employees just didn't have time between the announcement and the program sunset to pursue the next plateau and cash out.

Those involved in the program evidently were none too pleased by the points grab. And they sought answers from corporate brass through an internal Slack channel.

Citing the revised award scheme, one question read, "Do we allow customers to unilaterally cancel the payment schedule after work has been delivered?"

Another read, "Is it reasonable to do this to employees, many of whom worked outside of their regular job to develop IP?"

We're told these represented the most upvoted questions submitted to the CEO's recent monthly Office Hours meeting, but the response was evasive.

IBM did not respond to a request for comment.

A former IBMer reports that a colleague still with Big Blue said, "My opinion: The invention award program was buggered a long time ago. It rewarded words on a page instead of true innovation. [Former CEO Ginni Rometty] made it worse by advocating the program to fluff up young egos." ®

Updated on January 19

A spokesperson for IBM has been in touch to stress it still has an awards program, it's just not the same as before:

IBM’s invention achievement awards program has been simplified to provide for a higher monetary award for filing a patent application for an employee’s invention. Importantly, the updated program supports the company’s priorities with regards to patents.

They did not deny that cash points were wiped away, and instead added Big Blue is now taking "a 'quality over quantity' approach" with regards to proposed inventions.

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