Lawsuit against Apple’s Passbook is Lodsys redux

Apple is again in the sights of a company with patents and an itchy trigger finger. The iPhone’s Passbook feature, which allows consumers to store tickets, loyalty cards, coupons and such digitally, is the target of San Diego-based Ameranth. The company is seeking triple damages, claiming in the lawsuit that the Cupertino, Calif. technology giant willfully infringed on Ameranth patents on wireless mobile payments.

The company has already sued the likes of Hilton, Marriott and Ticketmaster and gotten 14 other companies to ink licensing pacts. TechCrunch spoke to the CEO of one of the companies who’d rather pay than suffer some long drawn-out legal fight. The interview is enough to send cold shivers up Apple developers who survived the 2011 patent uproar from Lodsys

In an interview, SubtleData founder Richard Bagdonas, warns that the lawsuit could expand from just Apple to target every developer connected to the Passbook feature. In other words, Passbook devs had better immunize themselves by paying financial homage to Ameranth. As writer Darrell Etherington notes, SubtleData — which licenses Ameranth technology — also sub-licenses from the company and will financially benefit from developers who do sign on the dotted-line.

If this seems like deja vu all over again, you’re correct. In 2011, Lodsys came after every developer employing Apple’s in-app purchasing system. The company — which said its license with Apple didn’t protect developers — was roundly criticized as a patent troll. The firm’s desire to keep Apple’s horde of hungry lawyers leashed failed, of course. The iTunes creator essentially shredded any argument keeping it out of the fight.

To be fair, Ameranth isn’t a clone of Lodsys. For one, Apple has cited the firm’s patent as prior art in connection to the iPhone. For another, the company supposedly does produce more than lawsuits. According to Bagdonas, Ameranth sells wireless ordering systems to restaurants.

No one would be a stronger supporter of defending patent rights than Apple, which has waged a global battle against rivals, using its patents as an effective legal cudgel. However, this lawsuit against Passbook and the intimated threats against all Passbook developers is one we think everyone — even Samsung — hopes will go away.