Virus-protection software giant McAfee.com has won a US patent that could affect the way software services are delivered online.

The company filed for the patent three years ago and has now patented its own ASP (Application Service Provider) technologies.

Jim O'Reilly of the ASP Industry Consortium said: "McAfee has patented its own version of the ASP model: its own particular product and service of a security-based solution delivered through the ASP model."

McAfee – developer's of Dr Solomon's Virex for Macintosh – describes its patent as covering the company's "software-as-a-service" technology. It covers the capability to deliver software encapsulated within mark-up language (HTML/XML), delivered by browser over the Internet to execute scripts and automatically perform tasks on a computer.

If opposed, McAfee will defend its patent vigorously. "If there is anybody else that wants to deliver services the way we do, it would behove them to talk to us or work on engineering around the patent," said Srivats Sampath, president and CEO of McAfee.com. The company has one million paid subscribers.

The patent applies to the way McAfee.com operates its business, but not the concept of the ASP business model, says Harry Fenick, CEO of the Segaza Group (formerly known as Zona Research).

"They have a very specific technology that is highly optimized to deliver what you need, configuring the computer and managing those configurations," Fenick says. "I don't think this stops everyone else in their tracks. It's not an attempt to declare McAfee.com the one and only standard for doing this."

Between 1000 and 2000 ASPs are operational, ranging from start-up firms to software giant Microsoft, claims O'Reilly. Microsoft's new .Net initiatives are intended to support each aspect of developing, managing, using, and experiencing XML Web services. Microsoft and McAfee.com announced an alliance on May 22, saying they would work cooperatively to incorporate .Net technologies and enterprise servers into McAfee.com's online services and elsewhere.