The story of Lodsys is, by now, quite an infamous one in smartphone app development circles. The “company” (and I use that term loosely) owns a few patents, which it basically claims covers any iPhone app that involves in-app payments:
- 5,999,908: Customer-based product design module
- 7,133,834: Product value information interchange server
- 7,222,078: Methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network
- 7,620,565: Customer-based product design module
This is despite the fact that Apple offers in-app payments as a feature of its platform, and Apple, in fact, holds a license to the patent in question. Of course, Lodsys and its supporters argue that Apple’s “license” only applies to Apple and that it’s proof that the patent is valid. That’s not accurate however. The patents Lodsys holds were spun out of Intellectual Ventures, so it’s most likely that Apple’s “license” to them comes from the fact that it’s one of the many large tech companies who have paid off IV to be protected from such patents. Apple has said that it will defend iPhone developers in court if they take on Lodsys, but it’s still an expensive proposition, and even some of the most principled app developers are realizing that it’s cheaper to settle than to fight.
This is, of course, exactly what Lodsys (and many other patent trolls) rely on. The patent system today is such that if you get sued, you’re almost guaranteed to have to spend at least $1 million defending yourself in court. This is not fair. This is not reasonable. But it’s a key element in our broken system, and the trolls exploit it as much as they possibly can.
Thankfully, some companies are trying to fight back. Despite Apple’s promises to fight on behalf of its developers, Lodsys continues to both threaten and sue, including going after some big companies, like Dell, Rosetta Stone and Overstock. Of course, one reason why Lodsys wants to keep going is that at least one of its patents expires in a few months — and it probably wants to squeeze as much out of it as possible. As the article linked here by Jeff Roberts highlights, a Seattle app developer, A Thinking Ape, has decided to jump ahead of the line by filing for a declaratory judgment against Lodsys. Lodsys’s initial threat letter and A Thinking Ape’s filing are embedded below. The filing includes details of many other declaratory judgment filings against Lodsys and argues that the patents are both invalid and that A Thinking Ape doesn’t infringe them anyway. It certainly would be nice to see Lodsys smacked around in court a bit, but Lodsys and its secretive “owners” are still likely making out like bandits by effectively taxing tons of app makers.