Patents issued to Microsoft and Intel have highlighted an intellectual-property imperative driving technology powerhouses to aggressively build up their patent portfolios.
Microsoft received US patent 6,886,132 for its method of creating an MHTML file, which is used to attach web pages to an email message.
Over at Intel, the semiconductor giant was awarded US patent 6,886,180. The invention takes the functions of a standalone, broadband cable-modem and implements them on a personal computer.
Intel this week received 28 patents, ranging from a heatsink assembly to a method for making a photolithography mirror. Microsoft snared 13 patents this week, including an MPEG sub-sample decoder and a keyboard with an improved numeric section.
Microsoft received 520 patents in 2003 and 659 in 2004. So far this year, it has garnered 176, which puts it on a pace to slightly exceed its total of two years ago.
While software patents have been on the increase, the numbers from hardware-centric Intel dwarf those from Microsoft. Intel earned 1602 patents in 2003, 1607 in 2004 and 482 during the first three months of 2005.
Yet the flip-side of such individual successes is an overall patent system that's swamped by too many filings and too little funding. Indeed, Congress is poised to enact legislation to reform the 215-year-old patent process.
Both Intel and Microsoft support the reforms, which they say are needed to minimise the potential for abuse of the patent system.
"You have to have a system that actively benefits innovation," David Simon, Intel's chief patent attorney, said in an interview.
"You have to ask whether models that were originally developed going back into the 1600s needs changing. Will the legislative reforms that we're advocating go a long way towards helping things? We think that they will."
Simon, who testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee's intellectual property subcommittee, was seeking reforms which will cut down on poor-quality patents.
He also wanted to reduce the number of cases brought by companies looking for a quick buck by acquiring patents and then seeking settlements from those they claim are infringing.
Simon testified as a representative of the Business Software Alliance; along with Intel and Microsoft, that industry lobbying group counts among its members Adobe, Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sybase, and Symantec.
Similarly, Microsoft supports patent reform. "We at Microsoft believe that important improvements should be made in the US patent system," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on 10 March, according to a transcript provided by Microsoft.
"Our patent system is being flooded with new patent applications and an explosion of sometimes-abusive litigation."