A London intellectual-property licensing company claims it has a set of patents covering a software-downloading technique that is in widespread use for automating application delivery.
The company, BTG, said it is negotiating with a number of software suppliers 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 spokesman Andy Burrows. The recipient was an inventor BTG works with who does business via New York-based Teleshuttle, Burrows said.
He described the patents as covering "downloading software updates manually or on a predetermined schedule, as is used for anti-virus 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 suppliers whose products it believes violate the patents. He declined to name any of those companies or products, or to comment on how much BTG believes the technologies are worth.
The suppliers BTG is targeting have been open to negotiations, but if discussions fail, legal action is 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 pay-offs can be huge. Last year, a federal judge ordered eBay to pay $29.5m (£16.1m) to Thomas Woolston for infringing, with its "Buy it Now" feature, on a patent he held for fix-priced sales online. Microsoft is appealing a jury verdict awarding $521m to a technology company for infringements in Internet Explorer.
"There is a lot of negative news around patents, and it is true that there is a lot of frivolous patent assertions," Burrows said. "But we have a 50-year history in the business, and we deal only with things that are serious."
Most patent cases are settled before reaching trial, according to attorney John Ferrell, who chairs the intellectual property practice group of Carr & Ferrell. Single-patent cases that make it to trial are won about half the time.
When multiple patents are involved, as with BTG's claim, the odds for the plaintiff go up, since a defendant only has to violate one patent to end up owing damages.
BTG had revenue of £52.9m for the year ended 31 March, almost entirely from licence agreements and settlements. Its portfolio includes the technology for magnetic resonance imaging and the hovercraft.
Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service