Microsoft Patents 'IsNot'

Peter Hansen peter at engcorp.com
Mon Nov 22 04:25:23 CET 2004


Carlos Ribeiro wrote:
> I'm curious. I know that Python is not going to enter into a
> 'patent-filling' frenzy anytime soon. But isn't the 'is not' trick
> also patentable on it's own? The reason I ask this is twofold:
> 
> 1) I always found the "is not" with two tokens a novelty -- I knew no
> other language before where this spelling was acceptable. But I am no
> "linguist" (in the CS sense), either.

Novel or not, it still fails the "obvious" test, as the vast
majority of software patents do.

As proof by example, I point out that at one time early in
my Python learning, I had never seen a single example of
the negative form of the "is" operator, and had never in
fact needed one, yet when the time came for me to write
code which required the inversion, I just did what you
should almost always do with Python and tried the simplest
and most obvious thing: "is not".  Of course, it worked...

Doing it different might not have been obvious to a
parser writer, but to someone who speaks English it
is certainly the more obvious way to specify what was
desired here than the alternatives ("not is", "IsNot",
etc.).

Being the first to think of something doesn't make that
thought "non-obvious".  After all, for each really obvious
thing in the world, *someone* was the first to think of it!

And here is an appropriate place to quote from the Wikipedia
on the topic of patents:

   """The standard of obviousness and its application are more
subjective and controversial than that of novelty. If the requirements
are set very high, virtually nothing is patentable. Similarly if the
requirements are very low, all kinds of trivial inventions can receive
patents."""

Hmm... sounds like they have set the bar very, very low right now...

-Peter



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