Microsoft has won a patent that could give it control of certain essential features found in a wide range of email applications.

On Tuesday the company was granted US patent number 6,895,426, covering "treating electronic mail addresses as objects".

Among other uses of this patent, Microsoft claims the technology lets email addresses be added to a contact list easily. It also covers situations in which a user copies an address to a clipboard or double-clicks to access contact information that is relevant to an email address.

"E-mail addresses are treated as objects in the message preview pane and full message windows of both incoming and outgoing email messages. A small icon is added to the text of each address. In a preferred embodiment, the icons will vary depending on the pedigree of the address," the patent claims.