Lodsys Threatens iOS Developers Over In-App Patent Dispute

In-app purchasing has had kind of a rocky go of it since Apple announced the feature in late 2009.  It was the reason behind multiple lawsuits and was even rumored to be investigated by members of the FCC.

Well it appears that its legal troubles aren’t over just yet, but this time it’s not angry parents threatening with legal action. This time it’s a small license-toting company that says that in-app purchasing infringes on one of their patents…

Lodsys, LLC has been grabbing a lot of headlines lately. The patent licensing company has been mailing out requests to iOS developers that they pay a licensing fee for their apps using in-app purchasing, and by request I mean they will sue the companies that don’t comply. MacRumors quotes Rob Gloess, one of the developers behind Mix & Mash:

“Our app, Mix & Mash, has the common model of a limited free, light, version and a full version that contains all the features. We were told that the button that users click on to upgrade the app, or rather the link to the to the full version on the app store was in breach of US patent no 7222078, we couldn’t believe it, the upgrade button!?!”

There are about 12 other iOS developers that have received the patent lawsuit threats thus far, and apparently this Lodsys company isn’t joking around. Cult of Mac quotes a tweet from James Thompson, the developer behind PCalc:

“Just got hit by very worrying threat of patent infringement lawsuit for using in-app purchase in PCalc Lite. Legal docs arrived via fedex. No idea what to do… They seem to be effectively claiming the rights to in-app purchase, but going after me, not Apple.”

Lodsys is demanding 0.575% of US revenue until the patent expires. A company that turns $1 million worth of app sales in a year, would owe $5,750. This all might seem strange, since Apple requires that iOS developers use their in-app purchasing system. Why aren’t they responsible? Lodsys answers this in the company blog that has been setup recently to collectively answer the mass amount of emails it’s received since developers received the threats:

“The scope of their current licenses does NOT enable them to provide “pixie dust” to bless another (3rd party) business applications. The value of the customer relationship is between the Application vendor of record and the paying customer…”

If that isn’t enough to boil your blood, try some of the company’s other comments regarding their recent actions:

“It’s odd that some of the companies that received notices had such a visceral reaction. Some of these companies make our favorite apps, for which we paid the asking price. We realize you have to get paid for your work and so do we.”

All and all I’m not too impressed by the Lodsys, which isn’t even the inventor of the patent in question. They purchased it along with 3 other inventions from Dan Abelow. It would be nice to see Apple intervene and release an update with a workaround, but I won’t hold my breath.

The Cupertino company has reportedly started investigating the patent dispute, and is expected to comment on it later this week. It’s a shame to see somebody trying to charge for something so minute. Imagine if everyone who ever contributed a tiny something to the advancement of technology tried to come back and collect, maybe it’ll come to that.

What do you think about Lodsys’ actions? Justifiable?