On Monday after the bell, California-based intellectual property rights defender Macrovision (NASDAQ:MVSN) reported yet another fabulous quarter, whether judged by revenues, earnings, or pro forma (Latin for "ad lib") earnings.

For the first quarter of 2004, revenues rose 35% over the year-ago quarter. Net income for the company as a whole rose a whopping 55% compared to the prior first quarter, and per-share diluted earnings performed almost as well, up 50% at $0.21 per share (3% share dilution accounted for the divergence between companywide and per-share results).

With results like these, you have to wonder why Macrovision even bothered to report pro forma results. Usually, companies only resort to bragging about their "pro forma profitability" when they have not yet achieved GAAP profitability. Think Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) pre-2002.

Macrovision, in contrast, not only reported wonderful GAAP profits, its $0.21 in GAAP earnings trounced Wall Street's analyst estimates of $0.14. Yet the company went on to argue that, if you strip out goodwill amortization, gains and losses on investments, and other petty details, it actually earned $0.22 a share in "pro forma" profits -- a whole extra penny! Hooray!

No, check that. Boo! Hiss! There is a reason that pro forma reporting got the bad reputation it has today. American companies used it all the way from Bubble to Burst, to make their results look better than they really were.

When you let a company get away with telling you that this charge was "onetime," that cost was "non-cash," and the other loss was not so much a "loss" as an "impairment," you give that company free rein to manipulate its results and report whatever "profits" it wants to, whenever it wants to. That Macrovision felt compelled to use these kinds of accounting tricks and gymnastics-of-prose to eke out an extra penny on top of objectively great results, shows how pervasive the pro forma culture remains.

So this is my message to Macrovision: Next time, leave that extra penny on the table. Be satisfied with your GAAP profits. As Motley Fool Hidden Gems members know, GAAP is not a perfect system for measuring profitability (free cash flow analysis is better; structural free cash flow is better still). But it is a danged sight better than the malleable results embraced by pro forma accounting.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned here.