A number of iOS developers have recently received letters from a company called Lodsys alerting them that features in their apps use patented technology. Specifically, Lodsys seems to be going after developers who are using in-app payments to offer additional content, features, or upgrades. That’s despite the fact that Apple recently rolled out tools that let developers add in-app purchases to their apps with minimal fuss.
Now Lodsys has written a series of blog posts explaining its side of the action. In a nutshell, the company claims that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are already licensing its patent, but that those licenses don’t extend to third parties, which is why the company is going after independent developers.
While the amount of money Lodsys is seeking is relatively small (about $0.575% of revenue from in-app purchases, for instance — or about $5,750 per $1 million in sales), the App Store is choc full of apps from small time developers who probably didn’t even think about doing a patent search before getting started — and who probably assumed that using tools provided by Apple exempted them.
That doesn’t necessarily exempt them. After all, you can hardly use “I didn’t know murder was illegal” as a defense in court. But this sort of action could raise the barriers for entry for new mobile app developers. Then there’s also the question of whether the patent is too broad. Lodsys insists it isn’t, but that’s hardly surprising. But the US Patent Office is supposed to deny patents on things that seem obvious, and while it might not have seemed obvious nearly 20 years ago, in-app purchases certainly seem pretty obvious today. Maybe it’s true that’s just because we’ve seen them so often, but really, the ability to click a button from within a program to make a payment for an upgrade? I’m not a lawyer, but what are the odds somebody wouldn’t have come up with that on their own?
Odds are this issue isn’t going to be resolved for a while, but after a weekend filled with bloggers spouting opinions, I suppose it’s nice to see Lodsys weigh in on the company blog — even if it doesn’t necessarily clear up all (or most) of the questions.
via The Next Web