Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Patents Microsoft

Microsoft Patents 'IsNot', Enlists WTO 720

Milhouse102 writes "I was just reading an article on The Register about Microsoft's offshore patent war following Ballmer's recent outburst in Asia. I came across this little nugget, it seems MS has patented BASIC's IsNot operator."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Microsoft Patents 'IsNot', Enlists WTO

Comments Filter:
  • Am too. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Raven42rac ( 448205 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:44AM (#10863781)
    I am going to patent "is too" and "nuh uh".
  • oblig (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:45AM (#10863784)
    Somehow, this IsNot funny.
    • How 'bout some prior art? They're patenting the use of a single operator to compare two objects and tell you if they're different. Something tells me that "!=" predates "IsNot". (Yes, "!=" is a single operator. It's not the combination of "!" and "=", otherwise it'd have to be "!==".)
  • by mfh ( 56 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:45AM (#10863786) Homepage Journal
    Hmmm Microsoft patents IsNot so we can't say Microsoft IsNot Linux or Mac, right? Maybe because they don't want us to say Microsoft IsNot good? IsNot fair? IsNot using best practice? I guess they are trying to surpress our complaining.
    • by kuwan ( 443684 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:00AM (#10863959) Homepage
      In other news... [] (From an old Onion article)

      REDMOND, WA--In what CEO Bill Gates called "an unfortunate but necessary step to protect our intellectual property from theft and exploitation by competitors," the Microsoft Corporation patented the numbers one and zero Monday.

      With the patent, Microsoft's rivals are prohibited from manufacturing or selling products containing zeroes and ones--the mathematical building blocks of all computer languages and programs--unless a royalty fee of 10 cents per digit used is paid to the software giant.

      "Microsoft has been using the binary system of ones and zeroes ever since its inception in 1975," Gates told reporters. "For years, in the interest of the overall health of the computer industry, we permitted the free and unfettered use of our proprietary numeric systems. However, changing marketplace conditions and the increasingly predatory practices of certain competitors now leave us with no choice but to seek compensation for the use of our numerals."

      Read More. []

      Sounds like a scam, but it works. []
      Free Flat Screens [] | Free iPod Photo [] |
    • by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:27AM (#10864206)
      My operating system of choice IsNot Microsoft Windows
      My favorite software company IsNot Microsoft
      My favorite internet company IsNot Microsoft
      My news site of choice IsNot MSN
      My webmail site of choice IsNot Microsoft Hotmail
      My game console IsNot a Microsoft XBox
      My favorite CEO IsNot Microsofts Steve Ballmar
      My... oh forget it....
    • Re:IsNot Microsoft? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:27AM (#10864213)
      The patent claim makes interesting reading. Specifically:

      2. The system of claim 1, wherein the compiler is a BASIC-derived programming language compiler.
      3. The system of claim 1, wherein the operator is IsNot.

      Most of the other claims simply describe how a compiler goes about producing executable code.

      IANAL, but does this mean that any language which wasn't BASIC derived would be free to implement this? Similarly, you could work around it simply by calling the operator Isnt.

  • Not Quite (Score:5, Informative)

    by RangerRick98 ( 817838 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:46AM (#10863797) Journal
    Unless I'm mistaken, they've only applied for a patent; it has not yet been granted. Sadly, given the state of the patent system nowadays, it would not surprise me if it is granted.
  • by Herkum01 ( 592704 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:47AM (#10863807)
    Me: "IsNot" a valid patent.

    Microsoft: "IsTo"! damn forgot to patent that one!
  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:48AM (#10863810) Journal
    If the whole idea of sanctioning a company because it formed and mainatined a monopoly through anticompetitive practices is to restore competition in the industry, why do we continue to allow it to secure a temporary monopoly in that industry? PARTICULARLY WHEN THEY ARE STILL BEING SANCTIONED?

    I think it is a travesty that MS is allowed to aquire IP though the goverment that is sanctioning them. How does that restore competition? It is blatantly counter productive.

    • Would it matter? Microsoft could pay any random employee to own the patent and license it to them on an exclusive basis.

      Laws could be made to to try to avoid that, but realisticly it doesn't seem like it could be prevented.
  • by ravind ( 701403 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:49AM (#10863830)
    For future applications, the patent office will have to pay them to say "This IS NOT original".
  • by N Monkey ( 313423 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:49AM (#10863839)
    After a quick read of the patent, it seems to say that it is a test to see if two "variables" are actually the same entity, i.e. at the same address.

    That would seem to imply

    #define IsNot(A,B) (&(A) != &(B))


    Surely this is done in things like memmove() to prevent overwriting of data?

    • IANAL, but the patent application seems to be pretty specific in saying that it's only in BASIC that they're trying to patent it, so a similar thing in C would likely be unaffected. I don't know what good having this patent would do them, honestly. I can't conceive of any way off the top of my head that this could be infringed if it is granted. I 'll let that kind of brainstorming up to my fellow /.ers.
      • by k4_pacific ( 736911 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (cificap_4k)> on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:03AM (#10863998) Homepage Journal
        Perhaps the intent is to keep implementations of Visual BASIC from springing up on other platforms. A great deal of software out there is still written in VB and this code often stands in the way of getting off of Windows for good.
        • by magefile ( 776388 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:52AM (#10864479)
          From the release notes of NonMSVisualBasic:

          NonMSVisualBasic (NMSVB for short) is identical in every respect to Microsoft Visual Basic [trademark owned by Microsoft, all rights reserved by them] except that it lacks an IsNot operator. Instead, please use one of the following methods:
          • !Is()
          • MicrosoftSucksAss()
          • SoftwarePatentsSuckAss()
          • NotIs()
          We apologize for the inconvenience; please direct all further questions on this issue to
      • IANAL, but the patent application seems to be pretty specific in saying that it's only in BASIC that they're trying to patent it, so a similar thing in C would likely be unaffected.
        You are incorrect. Read claim 1. That's an independent claim. Everything that just fulfills those conditions infringes (if that claims is granted).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:56AM (#10863923)
      More to the point, the operator has existed in Lisp since at least the '60s:

      (neq a b)

      In Java the operator is simply !=, which tests for pointer equivalence in all non-numerical cases:

      a != b

      But ISNOT is likely a Bill Gates invention. It would seem the whole of the patent rests on a single claim, #2: the operator being in BASIC. Can this possibly stand up?

    • Here's the thing that has always confused me. I don't understand how patents are applied. This patent, for example, specifically claims coverage over BASIC-derived programming langauges where the operator is called IsNot. So, am I to understand that a C version does not infringe? What about a Basic version that calls the operator Isnt? How does this work? Lawyers?
    • by Speare ( 84249 )

      Paraphrasing Orwell only slightly, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two is not five; everything else will follow."

    • Or in Java:

      public boolean isNot(Object a, Object b) {
      return a!=b;

      Which is even more absurd.
  • by TreadOnUS ( 796297 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:50AM (#10863843) Homepage
    If so, the 'IsNot' operator is obvious and therefore not a good candidate to be patented. Of course what MS is really trying to do here is patent a representation of logic.
  • by arn0n ( 675488 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:50AM (#10863844)
    From the patent application:
    A system, method and computer-readable medium support the use of a single operator that allows a comparison of two variables to determine if the two variables point to the same location in memory.

    Prior art:
    The C operator !=, for comparing two pointers.

  • Attention Europe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:52AM (#10863863)
    See what is going on? do you want this, too?
    • Re:Attention Europe (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:17AM (#10864137) Homepage
      Oh I think our governments are starting to see what's going on alright. Poland just this week removed its support for the EU patent directive which means it no longer has enough support to pass. France and the UK have stated that FOSS is a viable alternative for government deployment and should be considered alongside commerical alternatives, Germany is already using it in Munich of course. Given Steve Ballmer's recent comments in Malaysia about "use Linux and get sued", do you really think these governments are going to to pass legislation to enable themselves to be sued?

      Kinda ironic that Microsoft should provide the anti-IP patent lobby with one of their strongest arguments to date, but it just goes to show that Microsoft doesn't understand *NIX. Certainly not the parts about *NIX making it really easy to shoot yourself in the foot at any rate... :)

  • by kuwan ( 443684 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @10:53AM (#10863876) Homepage
    If ever there were an example of how completely broken and useless the current patent system is then this is it. This makes you think, what other obvious and trivial functions have been granted patents? Can I get a patent on strcmp? I'll just apply for a patent on my new, special function that I just recently came up with. It's called StringCompare!

    As I right this my colleagues are writing up patent applications for the !=, ==, &&, ||, &, and | operators. I expect these applications to be granted shortly, after which we'll own all your code and Microsoft will be my bitch.

    Sounds like a scam, but it works. []
    Free Flat Screens [] | Free iPod Photo [] |
    • by N Monkey ( 313423 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:06AM (#10864016)
      If ever there were an example of how completely broken and useless the current patent system is then this is it.

      Before you burst a blood vessel, this appears to only be a patent application, not a granted patent.

      The USPTO "recently" changed its rules (to match the rest of the world) and no publishes applications before they are granted.
    • Apparently the patent is still pending. If it is granted I would call it an example of how the system is broken. Until then it's just fluff that doesn't mean much.

      Anyone can file an application for a retarded patent, but it won't necessarily be granted. More to the point, this is so stupid it makes Microsoft look bad. What kind of company wastes their investment dollars filing this crap?
  • Elegance. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Moby Cock ( 771358 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:01AM (#10863970) Homepage
    There is a sublime although disturbing elegance in the fact that it is illogical to allow MS to patent a logic operator

    I am currently trying to patent multiplication so all of you owe me a nickel everytime you times.
  • From the patent application: Such a language construction is ungrammatical, requires more typing and violates the philosophy on which BASIC rests. It would be helpful therefore, if a single more intuitive operator could perform the function that the combination of the two operators Is and Not typically performs.

    Microsoft is simultaneously announcing the publication of an updated version of The Elements of Style [], revised specifically for Visual BASIC programmers.

    "We're concerned with the literacy rates among VB programmers," says Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. "How can programmers learn to write correctly in English when they're exposed on a day-to-day basis with ungrammatical programming constructs?"

    Not everyone agrees with the initiative. Some people are expressing concern that Microsoft is concentrating on grammatical correctness at the expense of program correctness. Stay tuned for further details on this exciting development in the annals of programming history.

    More humor here []
  • by borkus ( 179118 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:04AM (#10864002) Homepage

    The patent isn't easy reading, but if you plow through enough of it you get to an example in code

    [0003] Class x
    [0004] Dim y As Integer
    [0005] End Class

    [0006] Class x in this case is defined to contain a member of type "Integer", which is to say that if the item stored at memory location 252 is a variable of class x, the contents of memory location 252 will comprise an Integer. Suppose now that the following code is executed:

    [0007] Dim a As x
    [0008] a=New x( )

    [0009] The first line of code defines variable a to be of class x while the second line creates a new instance of x 254 on the heap, a pointer to which is stored in variable a 256.

    It looks like their patenting using the Basic IsNot operator on object comparisons in Basic. It's a pretty limited patent.

    On the other hand, I'm baffled that you can patent overriding a specific operator in a specific language. There's considerable prior art in overrding operatorsin general.

    Of course, the problem with patent abuse by a few people is that it prompts others to do the same. Don't want someone to patent a piece of technology out from under you? Patent it first!

  • by yeremein ( 678037 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:09AM (#10864046)
    I know some patent applications are obfuscated enough that USPTO workers can't tell whether they're patentable so they just rubber stamp them--but this is absurd. If it weren't on, I'd assume it was a hoax.

    The != operator does essentially the same thing in C++, and it's been around for decades. Why is applying a well-known, absolutely trivial concept to another domain patentable? Heads should roll at the USPTO for this.
  • by unfortunateson ( 527551 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:11AM (#10864069) Journal
    This really boils down to a RTFA, but I'll expound here:

    First off, the IsNot operator is not part of VB 6.0 or 2003 (I haven't checked 2005, which is still in Beta)

    Second, if you undestand VB's "Is" operator, IsNot makes more sense.

    "Is" is a memory location comparison commonly used to see if two variables point to the same object, e.g.
    objThisControl Is objTheControlICareAbout
    . It does not compare the values of the variables, only that they are pointers to the same object.

    Because there is no inverse version of this operator like there is with "=" and "", you end up with non-natural-language statements such as
    If Not (objThisControl Is objTheControlICareAbout) Then
    Much more natural looking is
    If objThisControl IsNot objTheControlICareAbout Then
    Whether this is patentable is another issue. But you can certainly patent a published idea -- it's the only way to protect it.
  • by feargal ( 99776 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:18AM (#10864142) Homepage
    ...14 year-old AOL subscriber Iain Polowski, 15, has lodged a patent application for the "Me too!" expression which he developed for use in internet chat rooms and meeting sites.

    "i started hte develepoment process ovr 6 month ago when my mom baught me a comptutor for my birthday. i realised that most of that i said was saying the same thing as somebody else but it was hard to say it the same but differently. si i invented the process of typing 'Me too!' as a mechanicalism to show agreement with somebody, while saving on band-witdh and time", Iain said in an Online interview with Wired today. "What colour bra?", he continued before adding, "shit sorry, wrong window".

    Microsoft's director of licensing David Kaefer indicated that MSN chat users who subscribed to their licence indemnification program would not have anything to worry about, raising speculation that Microsoft are preparing a hostile takeover of Iain. "Me too!", added Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer.
  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:18AM (#10864144) Journal
    10 DIM A 10
    15 REM this is equivalent to A=malloc(10)
    20 B=A ... ...
    100 IF BA THEN ...

    So this tests to see if two variables point to the same memory location, in a variant of Basic which has been in use since about 1982.

    BBC Basic supports pointers, proper indirection, indexed indirection and dynamic allocation.

  • by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:20AM (#10864154) 7/243.aspx#Comments []

    And he writes that they "had requests for this in the past", so they did not even invent it, but some users suggested it.

    Finally check out the comments of the VB users below wetting their pants for this little feature. Now isn't that really sad?

  • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:21AM (#10864162)
    ... we will have to invent an "isnt" operator
  • No worries (Score:3, Funny)

    by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:27AM (#10864217)
    It's OK. I'm just finishing up my implementation of the "Ain't" operator, which will be released under the GPL.
  • by originalhack ( 142366 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:28AM (#10864233)

    So, just sent a registered letter to the patent examiner with a registered copy to the attorneys pointing out that there is prior art for claim one. this 1998 ISO comment [], this 1997 IBM document [] or a few zillion others.

  • by cnb ( 146606 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @11:38AM (#10864331)
    GNU is Not Unix.

    Pine Is Not Elm.

    Wine Is Not an Emulator. ....

  • Technically, it isn't Microsoft Corp. isn't claiming to have invented fire, it's Paul A. Vick Jr., Costica Corneliu Barsan, and Amanda K. Silver.

    In most situations where Microsoft employees act like rat bastards people place the blame on this nebulous entity "Microsoft", but for a patent application the names of real people to blame are published for the whole world to see! What kind of circle of friends must you have if you're not too ashamed to put your name on such a blatant attempt at defrauding the legal system as a means of stifling your competitors?

    "So, what did you do at work today?"

    "I filed a patent for pointer comparisons in BASIC, pretending to have invented a programming technique older than I am in order to help my criminal employer keep competiting compilers incompatible and thus entrap our customers. And you?"

    "Oh, same old, same old. Those puppies don't just drown themselves, you know!"
  • by de la mettrie ( 27199 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @12:06PM (#10864611)
    The article states: "If Microsoft can convince the TRIPS enforcers that massive patent infringement is taking place, it doesn't need to convince a court.".

    It so happens that IAMAITL (I am an international trade lawyer). I can assure you that the article, in that regard, is utter bullshit on various levels:

    • First, the "TRIPS enforcers" are the national courts. The TRIPS provision the article links to specifically requires the WTO Member nations to provide for courts to review alleged patent violations. The WTO by itself does not (directly) enforce anything.
    • Second, it is very much open to academic debate whether WTO Members must recognise software patents at all under the TRIPS. Most WTO Members still don't, and there is no WTO case law on this issue.
    • Third, the TRIPS (like most national patent laws) excludes from patentability inventions that are not new, useful and non-obvious. These safeguards can still be invoked to protect one's software against fraudulent patents.
    • And finally, nowhere in the article is there any mention that MS does in fact want to use the WTO in any way to enforce their patents. It only links to the WTO provisions at issue and goes on to ramble on how bad it would be if MS could indeed press the WTO into its service in the way the author imagines.

  • by crow23 ( 634516 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @12:17PM (#10864739) Homepage
    If you check the PTO web site, it is for "published patent applications."

    Microsoft applied for a patent on "IsNot" on May 14, 2004, and the patent was published 18 months later on November 14, 2004.

    This doesn't mean that the patent will issue and that Microsoft will receive patent protection for the operator. The author is getting ahead of himself...
  • GNU? (Score:3, Funny)

    by srichand ( 750139 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @12:25PM (#10864838)
    Say, this is bad for GNU. You know, GNU isNot unix.
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @01:01PM (#10865295) Homepage
    Other than using IsNot as an operator, in what way is this defined to be any different than the != operator which would test the same thing?

    Is this a statement which works in a different way or on a particular object in memory that makes it unique?

    Since pointers in C work more or less the same way, how exactly can they claim to have invented anything which exists in all other languages?

    Doesn't this all come down to the equivelant of the BNZ (Branch Non Zero) which is used to check this stuff down at the machine code??

    I just don't get it.

  • by josepha48 ( 13953 ) on Friday November 19, 2004 @01:28PM (#10865591) Journal
    ... covers C and COBOL, and any language.
    #define TRUE -1
    #define FALSE 0
    if ( TRUE ) {} fals under this, as well as Java code.

    Its time to start writing the patent office and challenge this patent.

  • by Moofie ( 22272 ) <`lee' `at' `'> on Friday November 19, 2004 @03:40PM (#10867396) Homepage
    It depends on what the definition of "IsNot" is.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.