In the wake of Real Software Inc. announcing a new version of its Realbasic application development tool, the company is concerned about a patent application Microsoft Corp. has filed that could affect all BASIC-like programming languages.
Real Software, of Austin, Texas, announced Realbasic 2005 last week at the Demo@15 conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The new version supports the creation of self-contained executables that run natively on Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
It is Microsofts pending patent application for what it calls the IsNot function in BASIC languages, however, that has Real Software officials concerned.
According to the patent application—filed in mid-November by Paul Vick, lead architect for Visual Basic .Net at Microsoft; Amanda Silver, a program manager on the Visual Basic team; and an individual in Bellevue, Wash., named Costica Barsan—the IsNot operator is described as a single operator that allows a comparison of two variables to determine if the two point to the same location in memory.
Geoff Perlman, CEO of Real Software, said the "is not" concept has existed for years in many computer languages, but Microsofts patent appears to cover only BASIC-like languages.
"We object to this patent," Perlman said. "It fails the obvious test, and there is clearly prior art in the industry."
The patent application mentions Realbasic, Java and Borland Software Corp.s Delphi, as well as Microsofts own Visual Basic .Net.
Perlman said he finds it interesting that when discussing BASIC languages, the Microsoft patent refers to Realbasic among a small group of other languages and added that neither Microsoft nor anyone else "should be able to patent obvious, fundamental programming operations."
Richard Tallent, a software developer and project scientist at ERM Group Inc., in Beaumont, Texas, agreed. Tallent said the only reason a company would want to lay claim to such a patent would be to sue anybody who tries to implement that idea.
"Im not saying that IsNot shouldnt be added to the language," Tallent said. "I welcome its addition, except that I will never use it because I dont want my code to be incompatible with future non-Microsoft, VB .Net-compatible compilers."
"Additions of keywords to a language to formalize a simpler syntax of some common action are not worthy of patent status," Tallent said. "Such additions to a programming language are trivial, obvious semantic improvements, not unique innovations."
Some observers see Microsofts attempt to patent the IsNot operator as a defensive move.
With IDEs (integrated development environments) targeting Linux improving, Microsoft could see erosion of its developer base, observers said. Microsoft officials in Redmond, Wash., declined to comment.
"Their patent is only for this operation in BASIC languages. We are the biggest threat to Microsoft in the area of BASIC languages, so theres no other way to read this other than as an attempt to restrict our success," Perlman said.
"We cant predict what Microsoft would do, but they are afraid of Linux and are afraid of the ability we give developers to port applications to Linux."
The IsNot patent
- Filed by Microsoft Visual Basic developers
- Covers a programming function to determine if two variables point to the same location in memory
- Focuses on BASIC-like programming languages
- Detractors say the patent covers obvious operations and that prior art exists in other languages