Real Software, the maker of the Realbasic application development tool, has raised concerns over Microsoft's IsNot operator patent application, saying that no one should be able to patent fundamental programming operations.
The IsNot patent application was filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office in November 2004 by Paul Vick and Amanda Silver, both at Microsoft; and another developer, Costica Barsan. The application describes a single operator, dubbed IsNot, that compares two variables and determines if they point to the same location in memory. It mentions Realbasic among a small group of BASIC-like programming languages, including Microsoft's Visual Basic .Net.
"We object to this patent," Real Software's CEO Geoff Perlman told eWeek. He argues that the patent should not be awarded because it fails the "obvious" test, and because there is plenty of prior art. The IsNot concept has existed in many programming languages for many years, he said.
The patent application was greeted by a chorus of disapproval when it was filed, with plenty of invective levelled at the principal inventors.
Paul Vick's personal blog entry about the application makes interesting reading. He says that although he doesn't belive in software patents himself, he recognises that because software patents do exist, companies have to "play the game".
"One of the most unfortunate aspect of the software patent system is that there is a distinct advantage, should you have the money to do so, to try and patent everything under the sun in the hopes that something will stick. If someone has a patent on "a biological system used to aspirate oxygen gases to fuel biological processes" (i.e. lungs), I wouldn't be surprised," he writes.
Richard Tallent, a software developer at ERM Group, argues that the only reason to claim the IsNot operator as a patentable innovation would be to sue anyone who infringed on it, eWeek reports.
"Additions of keywords to a language to formalize a simpler syntax of some common action are not worthy of patent status," Tallent told the publication. "Such additions to a programming language are trivial, obvious, semantic improvements, not unique innovations." ®