updated 05:50 pm EDT, Tue May 31, 2011
Lodsys sues developers to squeeze Apple
Lodsys on Tuesday disputed Apple's warning letter on developer patent licenses and sued some app developers. The company claimed that Apple had forced its hand and that it needed to "preserve its legal options." It tried to offer token compensation and said that, if it were proven wrong, it would pay $1,000 to each iOS developer who had been given an infringement notice.
The complainant alleged that it was surprised at the letter from Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell shielding developers. It was in secret talks and admitted a dispute but didn't expect Apple to publicly warn Lodsys of a legal challenge if it went ahead. Lodsys only formally codified its stance in a confidential letter to Apple after the letter was sent.
Its interpretation argued that Apple had an inherently limited role as an "agent" of the developer and that it had no more than $50 of liability coverage. Apple allegedly didn't have the authority to pass on patent rights or indemnification insurance to developers. Google, also targeted by Lodsys' anti-developer campaign, didn't explicitly address patent rights at all, the company claimed.
Lodsys recognized but largely dismissed the general consensus that its actions were those of a patent troll, instead calling itself a "rights holder" that just wanted to be paid. The firm tried to put the blame back on developers, saying they had a choice in what features to include but ignoring the likelihood they would have the resources to know of or dispute patent issues.
The action is likely to result in a lawsuit from at least Apple and is only expected to worsen Lodsys' public image. Despite its denials, the company fits the common definition of a patent troll as it has no meaningful contributions to the industry and relies solely on lawsuits and royalty cuts for profit. Advocacy groups have called out for patent reform precisely since such one-way firms artificially raise the price of products but never have products of their own to use the patents.
Apple hadn't commented on the actions as of Tuesday evening. The move is a gamble given that the WWDC developer conference is next week and will let many developers coordinate their responses to Lodsys through Apple without having to create a physical record.