A British company with a history of taking on larger rivals says it owns six patents affecting software downloads. The claim comes from British Technology Group (BTG), which is in the business of turning inventors' ideas into commercial products. If true, it could mean that dozens of software firms that use the Web to deliver certain kinds of software - including security updates and patches - could be forced to pay royalties to BTG.
The company also claims to hold a patent that relates to off-line Internet browsing, another area that could be lucrative in terms of royalty payments.
So far, BTG has declined to say which firms could be affected by its claims, although the company says it is in talks with several firms about the matter. The UK's Daily Telegraph, which broke the story, speculates that Microsoft - which delivers millions of security updates for its software over the Net - is one of the firms on BTG's hit list.
Anti-virus companies are also thought to be at risk if BTG's claims hold true, since these firms depend on the Web to update anti-virus systems on millions of computers on a daily basis.
Though no lawsuits have yet been filed, the firm has not yet ruled out the possibility if current discussions prove fruitless.
In its last set of results, covering the year ending in March 2004, BTG reported a 55 per cent rise in turnover to £48.8m as its pre-tax loss was reduced by 37 per cent to £22.8m. More than half of its revenues came from royalty payments on existing technology and products, and this figure rose 12 per cent in the year to £27.8m.
Despite its relatively small size, BTG has been successful in taking bigger organisations to court when seeking remuneration for technology and ideas that it claims ownership over. In 1989, the company famously won a £6m battle with the Pentagon over technology used in hovercrafts.
More recently, BTG has faced hard times after one of its technologies called Varisolve, which is used for varicose vein treatment, was not approved by the US regulators.