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McAfee files patents for security as a service

Good news for greedy lawyers

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McAfee has filed a patent for delivering security software as a service over the Web - a move that is almost certain to stir up controversy in the anti-virus biz.

The patent, described as a "method and system for securing, managing or optimising a personal computer", covers the firm's "software-as-a-service" technology and subscription-based business model.

Many of the other key players in the anti-virus market, most notably Symantec and Trend Micro, have launched services that allow users to scan PCs for viruses using the Internet, albeit after McAfee did it first.

It's not unknown for software companies to file patents of questionable merit that are geared at frustrating the business plans of rivals. In this case it looks like Symantec is getting a dose of its own medicine. Earlier this year, Symantec filed a patent covering its method for updating anti-virus software and definitions incrementally, at best a case of fine-tuning something that's been available for many years on Linux and Unix systems.

It's unclear whether the McAfee patent, which appears of more merit than Symantec's but still very broadly drawn, will hold water. The likely outcome is another round of litigation between Symantec and McAfee where the claims of intellectual property are gradually whittled down.

This is good news for lawyers but not for users.

The McAfee patent (US patent 6,266,774) encompasses the ability to integrate scripts, with an Internet language, such as HTML or XML, to allow security applications to be accessed via a Web browser. Examples of the kind of task McAfee is thinking about include the detection and removal of viruses, searching and upgrade of software and data, archival of data and hardware and software diagnostics. ®

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