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M$ & Intel Scarfing Up more Patents

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Patents issued this week to Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. highlight the intellectual-property imperative that's driving technology powerhouses to aggressively build up their patent portfolios.

Microsoft received U.S. patent 6,886,132 for its method of creating an MHTML file, which is used to attach Web pages to an e-mail message.

Over at Intel, the semiconductor giant was awarded U.S. patent 6,886,180. The invention takes the functions of a standalone, broadband cable-modem and implements them on a personal computer.

The two patents provide just a small snapshot of the innovations the two companies have shepherded through the process at the U.S Patent and Trademark Office. Intel this week received 28 patents, ranging from a novel heatsink assembly to a method for making a photolithography mirror.

Microsoft's week saw it snare 13 patents, encompassing inventions from an MPEG sub-sample decoder to a keyboard with an improved numeric section.

For those keeping a scorecard, such activity translates into hefty growth in the respective companies' annual portfolios. 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 1,602 patents in 2003; 1,607 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 minimize the potential for abuse of the patent system.

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