A London intellectual-property licensing company claims it has a set of patents covering a software-downloading technique that's in widespread use for automating application deliveries and updates. The company, BTG, said it was actively negotiating with a number of software vendors about licensing programs to remedy what BTG sees as an infringement of its patents.
At issue are six patents granted by the US Patent Office, according to BTG spokesperosn, Andy Burrows.
The recipient was an inventor BTG worked with who did business via Teleshuttle, Burrows said.
He described the patents as covering "downloading software updates manually or on a predetermined schedule, as is used for antivirus updates and product patches".
BTG began working with Teleshuttle in 1998, two years before Teleshuttle was granted the first of the patents now at issue. Burrows said BTG began negotiating several months ago with vendors whose products it believed violated the patents.
He declined to name any of those companies or products, or to comment on how much BTG thought the technologies were worth.
"We have an internal estimate, but we don't publish it," he said. "We definitely believe there are products out there using the technology."
The vendors BTG was targeting had been open to negotiations, but if discussions failed, legal action was a possibility, Burrows said.
Patent lawsuits have proliferated in the past few years, despite the time and expense involved in trying the cases. For victors, the payoffs can be huge: Last year, a federal judge ordered eBay to pay $US29.5 million to Thomas Woolston for infringing, with its Buy it Now feature, on a patent he held for fix-priced sales online.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is appealing a jury verdict awarding $US521 million to a technology company for infringements in Internet Explorer.
"There's a lot of negative news around patents, and it's true that there's a lot of frivolous patent assertions," Burrows said. "But we've got a 50-year history in the business, and we deal only with things that are serious. We're not frivolous in any sense."
BTG had revenue of $US96.7 million for the year ended March 31, 2004, almost entirely from license agreements and settlements. Its portfolio includes the technology for magnetic resonance imaging and the hovercraft.