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IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

A lot of people are all up in arms over the fact that Microsoft (via Paul Vick and Amanda Silver) patenting something such as the IsNot operator.

First, let me say congratulations to them... filing for a patent is a lot of work; not to mention the work and thought into adding a new operator into a language.  (Paul has in the past explained why there's a need for such an operator.)

I've been seeing a lot of people complaining about the fact that Microsoft is patenting such an operator.  Let me be the first to say that I despise such patents, but understand they are a necessary evil given the current state of things.  However, I've not actually seen Microsoft accused of pulling a CompuServe/UniSys GIF/LZW campaign.  This is not to say that Microsoft couldn't, just that I'm unaware that they have.  (Paul Vick also shares this opinion.)  For example, let's look at one EXTREMELY IMPORTANT patent that Microsoft has that is being used across so many devices it's ridiculous.  This would be the FAT File System Technology.  Now, I'm just guessing here, but I really doubt that everyone device out there that is using FAT as their file system (which pretty much *all* of them are) are actually licensing the technology from Microsoft.  Yet, I can't remember ever hearing about Microsoft attacking these guys.  I'm also unaware of any Linux products licensing the FAT technology.

Now, it could just be me, but I really don't think Microsoft would ever file an infringement suit on some other organization for using the IsNot operator in their implementation of BASIC.  There are several BASIC products that exist today... several that are “compatible” with VB that exist and are selling relatively well.

So what's the point of all of this?  I really don't know, so I guess I'll leave it with a challenge:

If you know of any instances where Microsoft has used their patents to “beat down the little guy”, here's your chance to point them out!

I'm ready to listen and maybe you'll be able to cause me to rethink my position.  Until then, stop your whining, your belittling of others hard work and get back to working on your own stuff ;-)

Published Sunday, November 21, 2004 2:18 PM by CorySmith
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Comments

# re: IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

Sunday, November 21, 2004 3:12 PM by Mike Gunderloy
You might want to find a different example. The USPTO rejected the FAT patent after a reexamination in September. http://www.pubpat.org/Microsoft_517_Rejected.htm

# re: IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

Monday, November 22, 2004 1:12 AM by Cory Smith
My point was how silly these patents can be. Whether the patent office has rejected it or not does not remove the reality that Microsoft is licensing the technology... nor that they have rejected the other associated patents. My point was that Microsoft is going around and hitting people up for patent infringement like the CompuServe/UniSys people... however, Microsoft is always portrayed as the evil empire... therefor, must have some agenda up their sleeve.

# re: IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

Monday, November 22, 2004 4:17 AM by Richard Tallent
There is no need to file a patent if you are the first to market with prior use *UNLESS* you intend to sue the pants off of anyone else implementing your idea. Microsot is trying to set a precedent by patenting a computer language keyword.

# re: IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

Monday, November 22, 2004 12:29 PM by Smelly
Like Richard, I don't understand the point behind filing the patent if you don't intend to exclusively 'own' the technology.

# re: IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

Monday, November 22, 2004 1:39 PM by Cory Smith
Two things:

1. Back to my original challenge, name me some instances where this has/is taking place.

2. There are many reasons to own patents. The company I currently work for has several patents, yet we don't "sue the pants off" of any of our competitors; others are doing exactly what we have patented and doing it completely for free. However, what it does do is protect us from being sued by others because they either got the patent or more accurately because they may have figured out some other patent and decided they want to have exclusive rights to the technology... even though we've been using it just as long as them. So what am I getting at? Because of the way the software patent situtation is, by having all of the patents in your pocket, you can create a sort of Mexican stand-off. If you have a large collection ofpatents and someone comes at you with their patent claim trying to sue you, there's a good chance that they are using one of your patents (and my not even be aware of it)... thus you can counter sue... which may either get that company to retract or at worst allow both companies to compromise and settle out of court.

As for Microsoft setting "precedent by patenting a computer language keyword." I'm sure that someone has already done this before... I'm not a patent expert, but I seriously doubt that IsNot is the first instance of this. Out of curiosity, I did a search for AddressOf. It showed up in several documents... one by Apple. It wasn't specifically on the keyword AddressOf, but it was used throughout the document. What proof do you have that reflects that Microsoft is trying to set a precedent by patenting a computer language keyword?

# re: IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

Monday, November 22, 2004 11:17 PM by Noman
In international diplomacy/military theory the philosophy is that you must focus on an opponent's capabilities, not its intentions, as it is impossible to determine his true intentions and they could change anyway.

I see nothing to indicate that this philosophy does not apply to legal matters, including software patents.

Therefore, naming instances of Microsoft using patents against other companies is beside the point. It can do so in the future.

As for the point of adding patents to one's defensive arsenal, this is a common argument. The idea is that if someone accuses you of patent infringement, you can use one of your own patents against them and then come to a common licensing deal.

Unfortunately, the end result is a grand "cross-licensing" of a cartel of large companies which will ultimately choke off and destroy smaller competitors.

Economic history shows that companies (and cartels) which possess a monopoly position will always use any available means to block the entry of competitors. You could site laws such as the Sherman Anti-Trust act to show that such behavior is illegal. The act exists, however, to stop behavior which did in fact occur and caused societal problems which lawmakers were forced to address.

Software patents are a relatively new element of the legal landscape and it is very likely that one or more companies will push them to their advantage to the point where they will have to be re-examined. The end will be a "normalized" patent law, but the process will cause damage to both individuals, companies, and the economy as a whole.

# re: IsNot, Paul Vick, Amanda Silver and Software Patents

Tuesday, February 22, 2005 4:09 PM by Ben Evans
re: Noman

<quote>
Unfortunately, the end result is a grand "cross-licensing" of a cartel of large companies which will ultimately choke off and destroy smaller competitors.
</quote>

There is nothing stopping smaller competitors from applying for patents. The disadvantage the smaller companies have is that they do not have as many people working to think up new ideas and apply for patents. As we have seen throughout history, however, one good idea is all it takes.
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