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092 - Microsoft Corporation Patented the Numbers One and Zero Monday
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REDMOND, WA--In what CEO Bill Gates called "an unfortunate but necessary step to protect our intellectual property from theft and exploitation by
competitors," the Microsoft Corporation patented the numbers one and zero
With the patent, Microsoft's rivals are prohibited from manufacturing or
selling products containing zeroes and ones--the mathematical building
blocks of all computer languages and programs--unless a royalty fee of 10
digit used is paid to the software giant.
"Microsoft has been using the binary system of ones and zeroes ever since
its inception in 1975," Gates told reporters. "For years, in the interest of
the overall health of the computer industry, we permitted the free and
unfettered use of our proprietary numeric systems. However, changing
conditions and the increasingly predatory practices of certain competitors
now leave us with no choice but to seek compensation for the use of our
A number of major Silicon Valley players, including Apple Computer, Netscape
and Sun Microsystems, said they will challenge the Microsoft patent as
monopolistic and anti-competitive, claiming that the 10-cent-per-digit
licensing fee would bankrupt them instantly.
"While, technically, Java is a complex system of algorithms used to create a
platform-independent programming environment, it is, at its core, just a
string of trillions of ones and zeroes," said Sun Microsystems CEO Scott
McNealy, whose company created the Java programming environment used in many
Internet applications. "The licensing fees we'd have to pay Microsoft every
day would be approximately 327,000 times the total net worth of this
"If this patent holds up in federal court, Apple will have no choice but to
convert to analog," said Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs, "and I have serious
doubts whether this company would be able to remain competitive selling
pedal-operated computers running software off vinyl LPs."
As a result of the Microsoft patent, many other companies have begun
radically revising their product lines: Database manufacturer Oracle has
embarked on a crash program to develop "an abacus for the next millennium."
Novell, whose communications and networking systems are also
subject to Microsoft licensing fees, is working with top animal trainers on
a chimpanzee-based message-transmission system. Hewlett-Packard is
developing a revolutionary new steam-powered printer.
Despite the swarm of protest, Gates is standing his ground, maintaining that
ones and zeroes are the undisputed property of Microsoft.
"We will vigorously enforce our patents of these numbers, as they are
legally ours," Gates said. "Among Microsoft's vast historical archives are
Sanskrit cuneiform tablets from 1800 B.C. clearly showing ones and a symbol
known as 'sunya,' or nothing. We also own: papyrus scrolls written by
Pythagoras himself in which he explains the idea of singular notation, or
'one'; early tracts by Mohammed ibn Musa al Kwarizimi explaining the concept
of al-sifr, or 'the cipher'; original mathematical manuscripts by
Heisenberg, Einstein and Planck; and a signed first-edition copy of
Jean-Paul Sartre's Being And Nothingness. Should the need arise, Microsoft
will have no difficulty proving to the Justice Department or anyone else
that we own the rights to these numbers."
Added Gates: "My salary also has lots of zeroes. I'm the richest man in the
According to experts, the full ramifications of Microsoft's patenting of one
and zero have yet to be realized.
"Because all integers and natural numbers derive from one and zero,
Microsoft may, by extension, lay claim to ownership of all mathematics and
logic systems, including Euclidean geometry, pulleys and levers, gravity,
and the basic Newtonian principles of motion, as well as the concepts of
existence and nonexistence," Yale University theoretical mathematics
professor J. Edmund Lattimore said. "In other words, pretty much
Lattimore said that the only mathematical constructs of which Microsoft may
not be able to claim ownership are infinity and transcendental numbers like
pi. Microsoft lawyers are expected to file liens on infinity and pi this
Microsoft has not yet announced whether it will charge a user fee to
individuals who wish to engage in such mathematically rooted motions as
walking, stretching and smiling.
In an address beamed live to billions of people around the globe Monday,
Gates expressed confidence that his company's latest move will, ultimately,
benefit all humankind.
"Think of this as a partnership," Gates said. "Like the ones and zeroes of
the binary code itself, we must all work together to make the promise of the
computer revolution a reality. As the world's richest, most powerful
software company, Microsoft is number one. And you, the millions of
consumers who use our products, are the zeroes."
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