updated 02:40 am EDT, Thu June 9, 2011
In reaction to Lodsys patent intimidation
Apple is now screening app upgrades for legal issues, and asking developers if their apps face any legal problems via iTunes Connect, Information Week has learned. The new questions seem to be a reaction to the actions of patent trolling firm Lodsys, which has sued some developers for patent infringement.
The issue began a month ago, when Lodsys, a holding company that makes all its money from royalties and lawsuit settlements commonly referred to as a "patent troll," began sending letters to developers warning them that their use of in-app purchasing violated its patents. While admitting that Apple itself is licensed for the patents in question, the company claimed that Apple's "pixie dust" didn't extend to iOS developers.
Apple initially reacted to the practice by "actively investigating" the Lodsys claims, and soon thereafter sent Lodsys a letter asserting that its license does indeed cover app developers, and warning the company to stop threatening developers. Lodsys responded by ignoring Apple's letter and filing lawsuits against some thus-far unnamed app developers, and also targeting Android developers for the same alleged patent infringement.
Google has not publicly responded to the Lodsys actions, and neither company has so far offered direct legal or financial help defending itself from the lawsuits, though many targeted developers are currently at the Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco where they may be able to coordinate a response. Google has previously seen its partners sued over patents related to its OS and has not in those cases commented or coordinated any response.
The entire matter took another turn yesterday as a third company, ForeSee Results, has filed suit against Lodsys in Illinois seeking to invalidate four of the patents Lodsys is suing over.
In the meantime, developers may be unable to afford to defend themselves against such suits. Apple developer James Wilson noted the new legal questions on his blog, on the same page that usually contains a longstanding export compliance form. A more direct question "Do you have any apps that may have a legal issue?" also appears on a web submission form under the heading iCloud Legal Information.
Whether the new questions are a direct reaction to the Lodsys matter or just part of a new business model designed to protect Apple (and its App Store) from even more patent-troll lawsuits remains to be seen. Developers are anxious for Apple to do something to shield them, since they used the in-app purchasing system in good faith -- even though legally Apple has no requirement to do so.
Patent law experts say that should Apple -- or Google -- do nothing substantive to support developers, litigious holding firms like Lodsys will create a chilling effect that will discourage future development for the platform. [via Information Week]