Android Game Developers Targeted by Lodsys

The patent-holding company Lodsys, which has recently gained notoriety for threatening to sue iOS developers, continues to find itself embroiled in controversy as it broadens its reach to Android game developers.

The latest developer to receive legal documentation from Lodsys is Cory Trese, creater of the Star Traders Role-Playing Game for Android. On Tuesday, Trese Tweeted about a package he received:

"Just got a big package of legal BS from LodSys LLC about Star Traders RPG for #Android. I guess using @GoogleMobile SDK = Infringing ?"

Roughly a day later, Trese Tweeted that Lodsys called him and said they sent the package "by mistake" and wanted it back. Trese said in another Tweet that Lodsys told him he would be getting another letter, however. He says he's seeking legal counsel.

Trese finds himself in a situation similar to other small, independent developers: Unless they pay Lodsys for use of the patent, eating into their time and profits, they may have to fight a lawsuit in court, potentially costing a great deal more time and money. He also Tweeted a question common to the small developers facing legal threats from Lodsys:

"@timbray Advice for concerned #Android devs? You told me "Google will support Android developers" at #io2011 boot camp. Was it real? Lodsys!"

Tim Bray, referenced in the Tweet, works for Google as Android's chief public advocate. Google has not responded publicly yet to the Lodsys warnings to its developers.

Apple's legal department responded quickly to pleas from its developers, telling Lodsys that "There is no basis for Lodsys' infringement allegations against Apple's App Makers" and that they're "fully prepared" to defend their license rights. Apple claims that the license fees it pays to Lodsys also cover its developers. Lodsys disagrees, stating that the license covers the platform vendor, not the individual developer(s).

That case is facing a delay. Florian Mueller, who blogs about software patent issues, discovered that Lodsys requested a month's delay in responding to Apple's motion to intervene on behalf of its developers.

Lodsys' primary contention is that it holds the patent on software that allows in-app upgrades; for instance, a button that would allow a user to go from a free version of an app to a paid version. The button itself is part of the SDK for both iOS and Android, leaving developers flummoxed -- they say they're only using what Apple and Google provide for them. Lodsys is seeking 0.575 percent of the U.S. revenue from developers for use of its patents.

Mueller summed up the dilemma developers face:

"The biggest problem is that app developers need to know from Apple and Google how they should handle Lodsys's missives. Lodsys continues to send out letters demanding royalties. Whoever gets contacted by them needs to know whether the platform makers will provide blanket coverage to app developers."

That advice can't come soon enough for developers, who wonder what the next step is.

Lodsys, which has responded to the outcry through its blog, had not posted any updates as of Thursday morning.


About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.