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iOS Devs Sued Over Alleged Patent Violation

In a move that could have implications for the entire mobile development community, developers of apps for Apple's iOS mobile platform are being accused of patent violation and ordered to pay up.

The patent holder is a company named Lodsys. It has stated, in official correspondence to selected developers, that their programs' in-app payment technology (e.g., upgrading to a paid version of a free app) violates its patent. It's given developers 21 days to get into license compliance, according to Engadget, or face legal action.

In this case, writes Lodsys on its blog, that involves paying the company 0.575 percent of the profits. In addition, says Lodsys, developers will need to cough up an unspecified amount more for "applicable past usage."

One issue that has developers up in arms is that the technology in dispute is part of Apple's API. Thus, they're facing potential lawsuits over doing nothing more than using the development tools Apple has provided.

Apple's legal department, for its part, is said to be "actively investigating" Lodsys' claims, reports The Guardian. Apple has not publicly responded to Lodsys' position yet. Lodsys says that Apple doesn't need to do anything, since it legally licensed the technology. That fact, however, doesn't give Apple the ability to extend that license to third-party developers, Lodsys states.

The Guardian also says that "about a dozen" iOS developers were served with papers, although some Web sites are reporting that more patent infringement notices are going out. One Tweet from an employee of iOS development company Iconfactory stated that "Iconfactory just got Lodsysed."

Lodsys has been vilified for its actions, according to its blog. The writer, who isn't identified, said it has even received death threats:

"In any event, name calling, threats and irrationality don't help.  In particular, the death threats are seriously uncool.

Golden rule: do unto others as they would do to you.  You would like people to pay for your product and services, so would we.   Finally, you would like to be treated in a human manner, so would we."

Others have taken a more rational approach in their disagreements. Self-described "intellectual property activist" Florian Mueller blogged that "Lodsys is trying to abuse the patent system in a way that could ultimately destroy the entire mobile apps economy."

Mueller writes that he believes the lawsuit threat is more of a strategy than a desire to drag developers into court:

"For Lodsys it may seem to be a great money-making opportunity to send letters to countless little app developers. Unless Apple or a non-profit organization stands by those developers, they will eventually have to pay because they can't afford the cost and especially the risk of U.S. patent litigation."

He adds that if this stragety is successful, it would be quickly expanded, pushing small developers with limited resources into extinction. That's the same position taken by Netherlands-based developer Mike Lee, who blogs that "If we pay, we are collaborators in our own demise." On the other hand, Lee says, if developers don't pay, they'll be sued out of business even quicker.

Lee's solution? Delete the in-app purchasing abilities, which he hopes will send a message to Apple, forcing it to fight on behalf of its developers.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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