McAfee.com has won a patent that will protect its rapidly growing business for updating and managing security on desktop computer systems via the Internet.
The patent, announced last week, appears to be the first covering security systems delivered over the Web. While some observers think the patent could be used against the application service provider (ASP) industry, McAfee does not believe it can, or will, be applied that broadly.
"What we have is a patent that protects what makes us special — our secret sauce," said Srivats Sampath, McAfees president, CEO and a co-inventor of the technology behind the patent. "It cannot be applied to the ASP industry as a whole — but it does cover parts of the ASP industry that deal with managing, securing and optimizing computers."
McAfee was issued a patent on July 24 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for "a method and system of securing, managing and optimizing a personal computer."
The patent, filed in December 1998, essentially covers a subscription-based system that McAfee offers from its Web site to automatically protect computers from viruses and security holes, as well as improve computer performance. The software is delivered across the Net, and automatically installs itself on a users PC.
McAfee counts about 1 million subscribers to its Web-based security services, with the average subscriber paying about $30 per year. "If you take out the ISPs, were the biggest subscription-based service provider on the Net," Sampath said.
It remains to be seen whether McAfees patent can, or will, be applied against its competitors, most notably Symantec and Trend Micro.
Barbara Woolf, a Trend Micro spokeswoman, said the company does not believe the patent will have any impact on its business.
Trend Micro also offers a system for delivering and updating security software on desktop computers via the Internet, and offers the service in conjunction with 60 ISP partners worldwide. The system currently represents 3.5 percent of the companys business, but is growing rapidly, Woolf said. "We really believe it will be business as usual," she added.
A Symantec representative said the companys lawyers were studying the patent and could not yet comment.
McAfees Sampath said that, for now, the company has no intention of launching lawsuits against its rivals, but did not rule out such action in the future. "The nice thing about a patent is you have time," he said.