Microsoft Proves Pronouns Patentable

from the that's-just-great dept

theodp writes “Five days after arguing that the Eolas browser plug-in patent should be invalidated as obvious, Microsoft pocketed a patent of its own for Computer programming language pronouns, which covers the use of ellipses, blanks, and ditto marks as substitutes for names in a computer programming language. Perhaps the USPTO was won over by the patent’s eloquent conclusion: ‘Eliminating names is a substantial benefit as programmers dislike creating names.’ “ Sometimes, you have to wonder if folks are just sitting around trying to come up with absolutely ridiculous ideas on what to patent – just to see if they can get away with it.

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Comments on “Microsoft Proves Pronouns Patentable”

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mschaef (user link) says:

Re: Pronouns?

Paul Graham wrote about something like this in his book On Lisp: anaphoric macros. Basically, his macros allow the result of the controlling expression of an if…then…else or while loop to be easily accessed within the body of the statement.
Here’s a simple example:

(aif (assoc msg-id *compiler-message-table*)
??(cdr it)
??(error “Compiler message not found!” msg-id))

The statement assoc attempts to find a message in a message table. It returns false if the message wasn’t found and a tuple containing the message if it was found. Now, if it was found, the ‘it’ in the second line of code refers to the result of the assoc, thus avoiding the need to explicitly declare a variable to retain the result. (which, of course, the aif macro does internally)
Given that the technique predates the book, and the book was published in 1993 (, I think that this qualifies as prior art for a fair bit of the patent. It’s either sad that 1) Microsoft’s developers didn’t know about this or 2) Microsoft chose to ignore it, and not include the reference in the patent they chose to file anyway.
(BTW, the Lisp macro to implement anaphoric if is about four lines of code. Not many other languages can make that claim.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Example from the patent text

B) Pronoun processing program 650 can also be implemented as a parser extension of translator 610 using structure-based substitutions. In this case, explicit and anonymous pronouns are handled as a special case by the parser and the resulting parse tree is manipulated appropriately. Parser extensions can implement anonymous pronouns to the extent that a language grammar that includes them can be written unambiguously. Because they lack a semantic understanding of the program, parser extensions remain a form of substitution, but are more powerful than preprocessors. To illustrate, the following example can be implemented with a parser extension, but not with a preprocessor:

area=rectangle[i].width* $( ).height;

For this example, the use of the pronoun “$( )” refers to the previous left-hand side of a “.” operator (i.e., rectangle[i]).

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