Patent Firm Attacks Apple’s Heart: Developers

Patent Firm Attacks Apple’s Heart: Developers
Facebook may have decided that you shouldn’t see the news, but we think you deserve to be in the know with Gizmodo Australia’s reporting. To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Gizmodo Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

How was your Friday the 13th? It probably went a lot better than James Thomson’s, whose legal woes are playing out in real time over Twitter today.

James Thomson, the developer of PCalc and PCalc Lite, took to Twitter today to announce he’d gotten a legal nastrygram, threatening a patent infringement lawsuit for his use of in-app purchases. While Thomson didn’t name the potential plaintiff, Macworld confirmed that it’s a company called Lodsys. Thomson isn’t the only one Lodsys went after. Patrick McCarron, another indie app developer, announced he’d received a letter as well.

Soon more followed suit.

What’s interesting about this is that these developers were simply using Apple’s API for in-app purchases. They’re abiding by Apple’s terms of service (which also prohibits them from entering into any legal agreements with third parties). Lodsys has chosen to go after indie developers rather than Apple itself.

That some serious Sun Tsu shit. If you think of the iOS as a living entity, developers are its beating heart, essential to the life of the platform. And it seems to be working! It’s left Thomson in a quandry as to what to do with his latest release:

Moreover, iOS could be just the first salvo.

So what is Lodsys, and what’s its game? It appears to simply be in the business of licensing patents which it purchased from Dan Abelow.

We were unable to reach Lodsys, but reached Abelow by phone. He noted he had sold his patents years ago, and was unaware of this morning’s news. But that he isn’t completely surprised. “Those patents are from the 1990s,” he said. “It isn’t surprising that methods of communicating with a server would become more useful over time. As a result they have become increasingly valuable.” (Abelow did not know the exact patent off the top of his head, but the patent in question appears to be number 7222078, based on other reports.)

All of which would make Lodsys look to be like a classic patent troll. And yet it’s taken a complex path to action. By going after indie developers, who can’t afford to fight (and would seem to even be prohibited from doing so by Apple’s own terms of service) it’s essentially snuck behind Apple legal’s lines. Unless Apple is willing to invest some of its own legal muscle in supporting developers, they are likely going to be left with little choice but to halt in-app purchases rather than fight an expensive lawsuit.

In the meantime, it’s an interesting day on Twitter. At least until the attorneys show up and make everyone STFU.