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Test.com puts Web patent up for sale

The software company wins the right to a wide-ranging patent for online testing that could send ripples through the Net testing industry--but it's looking to unload it.

A small Cleveland-based software company has won the right to a wide-ranging patent that covers online testing, in a move that could have broad ramifications for Internet testing businesses.

But unlike many companies that land such broad patents, Test.com is considering unloading it.

Company CEO Jim Posch is hoping to sell or license the to a company that could better use the technology. "We want to find the right home for it," he said. The patent covers making and posting tests online and was granted last week.

The granting and enforcement of wide-ranging patents has become a hot topic in the tech industry as companies have tried to lay claim to technologies that are common on the Web. Most recently, Acacia Media Technologies sent out letters claiming patents on the process of transmitting compressed audio or video online, a mainstay of multimedia technologies on the Net.

And two weeks ago, SBC Communications sent letters to some companies--including Museum Tour, a Milwaukie, Ore.-based seller of educational products--asserting rights to patents on Web frames.

Net advocates have protested the heavy-handed use of certain patents, saying that they slow down innovation by curtailing the adoption of certain obvious Web features.

Test.com, which operates the Test.com Web site and is the parent of Test Central, is no longer interested in maintaining the patent because it's changed business models, Posch said. When it first applied for the patent four years ago, Test.com was focused on administering actual tests online. But the company decided to shift focus a few years ago, prompted by a weak economy and the lack of interest in a general online testing site. Most Web testing services focus on a specific type of testing, such as software certification. Test.com switched to selling software that helps companies administer the tests.

Posch said he's received some inquiries from businesses interested in buying rights to the patent, including some that conduct online certification of employees. "We believe it is pretty valuable," he said. "We think it will give someone a competitive edge."

Test.com has already gotten some critical mail from people who've learned about the patent, Posch said. He added that there are no immediate plans to enforce the patent, but the company will enforce it if it has to.