Security software maker McAfee.com this week revealed that it has been granted a patent covering its method of delivering software updates over an Internet connection. The move could have wide-reaching effects for any software company looking to deliver software as a subscription-based service, from Application Service Providers to Microsoft.
McAfee applied for the patent in 1998, and patent No. 6,266,774 was issued on 24 July, the company said. Called "Method and system for securing, managing or optimising a personal computer", it is based on the technology McAfee uses to update virus-checking software and perform other PC-optimisation tasks.
However, Srivats Sampath, co-inventor of the technology and president and chief executive of McAfee.com, made it clear that the company has broader ambitions for its intellectual property. "As an early pioneer in this area, this patent further reinforces our belief that the future lies in software applications being delivered online as web services to users around the world," Sampath said in a prepared statement. "This patent also reinforces our first mover advantage by securing our foothold in this space."
In an interview with the Associated Press, Sampath said that companies could either license the technology or "engineer around the patent".
Many oppose software patents on the grounds that they are often broad enough to put the competition out of business. In this case, companies such as Microsoft, which uses a similar process to install upgrades to Windows, could find themselves paying licence fees to McAfee.
Microsoft has also made software-as-a-service key to its future plans for Windows and the Office suite of applications, via its .Net project. McAfee is, however, a key partner in the .Net initiative.
McAfee will face obstacles in enforcing the patent. For example, it will have to prove that the idea was original, even though other companies were delivering software updates over the Internet before 1998.
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