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Stob In a move that has surprised naïve observers, the US Patent Office has announced that from now on it will consider ‘serious’ applications to patent specific integer numbers.

"It was the logical next step," grey-haired and twinkling Patent Laureate Mr J Dall Swanhuffer twinkled to a shocked press conference today.

"Remember human genes. Certain doubting Duanes used to argue that, just because nobody invented them, they couldn’t be patented. 'What will the patent-holder do if I happen to have a patented gene in my body? Shoot me?' they used to jeer. Well, those wiseacres were proved wrong then, and they’re going to be proved wrong again.

"Of course there has been irresponsible campaigning and scaremongering among left-wing pressure groups with an anti-big business bias. We expected this and we are ready for it. These are the same forces at work that were against software patents granted for stunningly obvious and general techniques. In truth one cannot but feel sorry for any confused individual who vainly tries to hold up the inevitable and just progress of patent law.

"To the law-abiding lay and IT community I say: yes, I have been listening carefully to your misplaced concerns, and I can put your minds entirely at rest," said Mr Swanhuffer. "You have no need to fear any number-crunching bogeymen. It is nonsense to suggest, as may well be suggested, that first grade school children chanting their times tables with Miss Pearson will be subject to raids by the sinister soon-to-be-formed FANT [Federation Against Number Theft] action squads in balaclavas carrying stun grenades.

"For one thing I have it on excellent authority that FANT operatives will never wear balaclavas except when it is very cold; for another it is unrealistic to expect any patents to be granted on integers in the range of the usual times tables that we teach kids – even the very smart ones who do 13 times and 14 times. Our preliminary research suggests that extensive prior art exists, even for comparatively obscure numbers like 151.’

Mr Swanhuffer indicated that the new arrangements will come into effect immediately throughout the United States, to be followed shortly by Western Europe ‘if it knows what is good for it’.

Integers are a kind of number with no fractional part, for example '12', and are widely used in both domestic and commercial applications. They were discovered by Sir Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century, or if not him then Pythagoras in his bath, or Benjamin Franklin. One of that lot. ®

© Copyright 2003 Verity Stobb

Five Stob stories on Number Patentability (read them in sequence)
Numbers to be patentable
Patented numbers ‘a good idea’
First integer patented
Softwron shows off its new technology
’Wron number caught in Fermat-defying romp

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