Apple Defends App Developers Against Lodsys Patent Infringement Claims

Earlier this month, patent holding firm Lodsys sent letters to several iOS developers threatening legal action over the infringement of a patent purportedly violated by in-app upgrade functionality within apps. The patent, which was filed in 2003, covers “methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network ” and does not explicitly refer to mobile smartphone apps or Apple in any way.

Several developers publicly expressed concern over the notification from Lodsys including James Thomson, the developer of PCalc Lite, via his Twitter account. Other developers also revealed that they had received similar notifications from Lodsys, including Iconfactory, the maker of Twitterific, Take Five and others.

The backlash against Lodsys was strong, prompting the company to publish an FAQ defending its actions in its blog and define that the company was seeking 0.575% of U.S. revenue as a licensing fee for the patent.

Apple had remained silent in the matter until today, responding to Lodsys by letter as reported by Macworld.

The letter, which has been published in full by Macworld here, bluntly states that there is “no basis for Lodsys’ infringement allegations” against app developers and notes that Apple has licensed the patents in question and is “fully prepared to defend” its license rights. In short, Apple states that its license of the patent in question extends to developers since the use of the in-app purchase system uses Apple’s own systems, APIs, software, etc. The letter closes by asking Lodsys to cease pursuing its claims of patent infringement.

While Lodsys isn’t seeking a particularly large amount of money from developers to license its patent, its actions could have a chilling effect on the App Store ecosystem, preventing developers from offering free apps with in-app upgrades to avoid paying the licensing fee. This could result in fewer developers bothering to create apps or that more apps would be paid apps instead of free ones. Additionally, Lodsys’s actions could pave the way for other similar claims against developers in the future. It’s good to see Apple stepping up to defend developers here.