Last Friday several developers began receiving threatening letters via FedEx from a patent troll called Lodsys. This company doesn’t actually build products, but in fact spends all of its time simply suing other companies for using its supposed inventions. What patent trolls do is file patents, hoping that some company, some day, will use one of their technologies in a product. When that day comes, they sue the company, hoping to receive royalty payments. This is Lodsys’s entire revenue model.
Recently, this particular patent troll has taken to sending letters to small, independent app developers, threatening to sue them if they do not give them a percentage of their revenue. Lodsys is claiming that these developers are violating a patent that they have filed on the use of in-app purchase systems. The ridiculous part of this is that the patent in fact does not actually describe an in-app purchase system at all. What this troll did is make its patent so vague that it could apply to almost anything related to this sort of system. Effectively, Lodsys set a trap for the developers, and waited for someone to fall in. They are claiming that Apple has licensed these patents, but that the license Apple has purchased does not apply to third-party developers. Therefore, they are requesting these developers pay royalty fees to them in the amount of 0.575% of revenue. Apple is still looking into the matter, but has yet to publish anything conclusive.
Legal defense for this type of lawsuit could cost upwards of $50,000, and potentially over $1 million. Lodsys is hoping that this large sum of money will intimidate the developers into giving them a small percentage of their hard-earned profits, rather than attempting to fight them off in court and lose large amounts of money that way.
Enter the cries for help
App developers and the press have attempted to contact Apple and get a statement on the subject since the first letter was received. They have been awaiting a response from Apple on the subject for a while now, but have yet to receive one. The developers are getting a bit tired of waiting for Apple to respond to the situation, so they came up with their own solution to this problem. What developers are doing is using Apple’s own “Radar” system for bug reporting, and using it to ask for Apple’s help in fighting off these trolls with their legal team.
The developers are hoping to submit at least a couple hundred duplicate bug reports and gain Apple’s attention that way. History says this should work, because it was in fact duplicate bug reports that gained Apple’s attention back in the days before they had released an iPhone SDK. These duplicate bug reports are rumored to have been the origins of the iPhone SDK. In 2007 when developers filed hundreds of duplicate bug reports requesting an iPhone SDK, Apple decided to make the developers happy by allowing them to build applications for the iPhone. It worked then, and they’re really hoping it will work now.
Additionally, a large group of developers is working on boycotting the use of Apple’s in-app purchasing APIs, to further gain Apple’s attention on the matter. If this company isn’t stopped, it may set a precedent for other trolls to attack independent developers all over the world, demanding payments. Hopefully this will work, and Apple will step in and knock this company to kingdom come. We can only hope this happens, because if it doesn’t, this will only spell very bad news for all independent developers, and the future of development itself.
Article Via Ars Technica