James Thomson, the developer of PCalc and PCalc Lite, took to Twitter to announce he’d gotten a legal nastrygram, threatening a patent infringement lawsuit for his use of in-app purchases and it may just be the opening shot in an IP war, not just against Apple, but against the devs who dare to sell their software on the App Store.Thomson is currently working with Apple as a first step to knowing how to address the issue and does not want the name of the company who is threatening to sue him on record unless he pays up a hefty licensing fee until he speaks to Apple Legal…………
A company called Lodsys claims to own four patents covering the in-app purchase mechanism found on iOS devices and claiming to have a patent on Apple‘s in-app purchase system, and has contacted at least five developers of iOS apps in the US and UK demanding that they license it.The move has worried app developers who are uncertain whether Apple will cover any legal costs relating to their apps, even though they have used the company’s developer kit and associated tools to create the apps.One claim was served on Friday by hand on James Thomson, a Glasgow-based developer who wrote the apps PCalc and DragThing. Another who received the couriered legal package was Matt Braun, a developer based in Toledo, Ohio, author of the best-selling iPhone kids game MASH who runs a mobile app development company, Magnate Interactive. Patrick McCarron of MobileAge, based in Chicago, has also received a demand.The claims come from a Texas-based company called Lodsys, which said it has four patents relating to in-app purchases, interactive online ads, online help and subscription renewals.
Lodsys is a patent licensing company for inventions developed by Dan Abelow, a Harvard graduate who sold five of his patents outright in 2004: four went to Lodsys and one to a company called Webvention.“The concept of the Lodsys-owned patents predates the internet,” Abelow told the Guardian. “The idea was that if you’re sitting and holding in your hand a product and you use it, why shouldn’t it be aware of your behaviour, digitally, and conduct your needs to the vendor, who could interact with you.” He filed for the patent in 1992 and it was granted in 1999, making it valid for at least another 15 years.The Guardian attempted to contact Mark Small of Lodsys by phone and email, without success, to seek an answer to whether Apple had ever licensed any of the named patents, and what validity was claimed against the apps developers.A number of the developers, including Thomson, have referred the claims to Apple’s legal department, on the basis that they have built their apps using Apple’s developer toolkit.Apple’s iOS Paid Apps agreement says that developers will be reponsible for “claims that any of the licensed applications and/or the end-user’s possession or use of those licensed applications infringes the copyright or other intellectual property rights of any third party”.But it is seen as highly likely that Apple will fight Lodsys’s claim, because it would destabilise its App Store, which is an essential element in maintaining the attraction of its iPhone.
Two iSO developers – James Thomson and Patrick McCarron have reported receiving threatening legal letters from an as yet unnamed third party.
Thomson used in-app purchasing in his PCalc Lite app (PCalc is one of those apps that I use all the time)while McCarron used it in a game called Shanghai Mahjong.
Neither are willing to discuss the matter much as they want comment from Apple’s legal folks, but to me this smells like a patent troll.
Other iOS developers using in-app purchasing are understandably worried, such as Gedeon Maheux:
Seems there’s a patent troll about who doesn’t have the courage, confidence (or money perhaps) to go after Apple so is instead going after indie developers.Apple needs to do the right thing here and indemnify developers why use the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit) to create apps from patent issues relating to the SDK.
[UPDATE: It is now being suggested that Lodsys LLC is the company behing the legal threats.]
[UPDATE 2: Dev Matt Braun who makes the MASH iOS game for kids has also been hit with legal threats.]
[UPDATE 3: Here’s what intellectual property activist Florian Muellerhad to say in an email:
“While the patent system works quite well for large players with deep pockets, little ‘indie’ app developers don’t have the resources to defend themselves against such threats. In most cases they don’t even operate under the legal umbrella of a limited liability company, so in a worst-case scenario they could be financially ruined for life if they lose a patent infringement lawsuit.”
[UPDATE 4: OK, some more information. I’ve receiveed information that suggests that it is indeed the Lodsys that is behind these legal threats to developers. The patent in question here is 7,222,078(which is listed on Lodsys) ‘Methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network.’ And yes, it is as vague as the title makes it sound.]