UK patent firm details ambitious claim

A UK organisation's Web patents appear to address many fundamental electronic publishing applications

British Technology Group (BTG) is armed with six patents in its battle with a number of unnamed technology companies over the claim that it has patented the process of downloading software updates over the Internet.

As reported last week, BTG believes that a number of software products currently on the market fall within the remit of its patents. The company refuses to say which companies it is talking to, but has said that its claim extends to software and virus-protection updates.

Many of these patents appear to be largely concerned with e-commerce and the delivery of electronic publishing, and less with patching security holes and protecting users from viruses and worms.

The first patent was filed in May 1994 and granted by the United States patent and trademark office in December 1997.

It was described as a "system for automatic unattended electronic information transport between a server and a client by a vendor provided transport software with a manifest list."

The summary of the patent explained that it solved the problem of "enabling simple, economical and prompt mass distribution of electronic information products". Like the later patents, much of the explanatory information was focused on electronic publishing and appears to make little reference to security products or virus protection.

According to BTG, though, this doesn't detract from the strength of their claim.

"That's how IP in this area works," said a BTG spokesman, claiming that an application such as automatic virus protection updating could be "a subcategory" of a wider patent covering the downloading of software over the Internet.

The founder and former president of one software company has already contacted ZDNet UK to say that his firm has got automatic updating working in 1995 -- which could make patents in this area null and void.

The issue of prior art -- examples where an activity or operation was already being carried out before a patent was applied for or granted -- can be particularly complicated in the IT sector.

BTG, though, says that it takes particular care to flag up all instances of known prior art when making a case.

The six patents in question are 5,694,546; 6,594,692; 6,125,388; 6,658,464; 6,611,862; and 6,557,054. They can be viewed at the US Patent and Trademark Office's Web site.