Patent Troll Going After iPhone/iPad Developers Who Use In-App Payments

from the oh-come-on dept

Another day, another example of a patent system holding back innovation. The latest is that a typical patent troll operation, named Lodsys, is threatening and/or suing a bunch of iOS mobile app developers for daring to make use of Apple's own in-app payment API to offer the ability to make purchases from within their apps. Lodsys lists out four patents that "are available for licensing."
  • 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
It appears that whichever patents Lodsys is using in bringing this claim, it's applying them extremely broadly. Meanwhile, the various developers who have now been sued are pretty freaked out. Most of them appear to be small shops -- perhaps just an individual developer -- whose big "mistake" was to actually use the tools Apple provided to make their software better. I can't see how anyone can defend a lawsuit like this as promoting the progress. The idea that in-app payments wouldn't have come along without these patents is -- on its face, preposterous in the extreme. Putting in-app payments into products is a natural evolution, and any programmer with a modicum of skills could have figured out ways to implement it. To claim that a patent was needed in this arena is simply ridiculous.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 12:59pm

    BS

    To claim that a patent was needed in this arena is simply ridiculous.

    But, innovation wouldn't have happened unless...

    Oh. Right.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    mmm, May 13th, 2011 @ 1:05pm

    1992

    In fairness, the earliest possible priority dates for this is 1992! That predates much of the internet and modern e-commerce.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    E. Zachary Knight (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 1:05pm

    If the judge allows this case to continue, I will have lost all hope for our legal system. Even if these patents are valid and the method used is a violation of them, these developers should not be held liable to violating them. The only party this patent troll has standing to sue is Apple because they are the ones who developed the "infringing" technology. These people simply used it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    mmm, May 13th, 2011 @ 1:17pm

    1992

    In fairness, the earliest possible priority dates for this is 1992! That predates much of the internet and modern e-commerce.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    Atkray (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 1:18pm

    Re:

    But if they sue Apple they run the risk of Apple fighting back. By suing small shops and individual developers they scare people into settling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Florian Mueller, May 13th, 2011 @ 1:20pm

    Apparently it's the '078 patent

    There are different media reports according to which the third patent on the list is the one they assert against those app developers. BTW, this is already the second patent assertion in only six weeks against app developers. I previously reported on H-W Technology's lawsuit against various app developers (those were much larger organizations than the ones targeted this time, however). My advice to app developers: publish your apps only under the protective umbrella of a limited liability company. My blog post on this is here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    duffmeister (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 1:25pm

    Re: 1992

    yes, but as is typical the claims have been amended since then to cover things not intended in the original patent application. This is a common tactic of the worst of the patent trolls as they can point to the original filing date and not the last amended date and say, "But it wasn't obvious then." This is clearly an abuse of the system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    David (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 1:31pm

    Smart on his part

    If he went after the big pockets (Apple), they would not settle... or license... they would use their legal team to squash him like a bug!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 1:35pm

    Patent #00000001

    "Methods and systems for bringing a patent infringement claim to court."

    Followed shortly thereafter by Patent #00000002 - "Methods and systems for bringing patent infringement claim to a court or courts in East Texas."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 1:58pm

    Let's try changing the PTO's incentives

    To file a patent you have to pay a fee.

    Make the fee very high if the PTO rejects the patent for any valid reason. (Novelty, prior art, non patentable subject matter, etc)

    Make the fee very low if the PTO grants a patent.

    This will both speed up the process of rejecting patents, and will significantly increase the percentage of rejected patents.

    This will also give the PTO incentive to crowd source the finding of prior art, etc. In fact the PTO could pay a bounty to anyone who can show grounds that lead to rejecting the patent application. (eg, it will create jobs)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 2:21pm

    This company has sent the same royalty demand to users of helpdesk chat software.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Wont the small shops have a claim against apple? I realize apple has a clause in their developer agreement but how is that clause really valid?

    Let's say someone patents a special style of bolt. Lets say I buy a bunch of those style of bolts from a manufacturer who doesnt hold the patent. Now when I sell my widget using those bolts I can get sued?

    This scenario is meant for my understanding because I'm sure it probably isnt a good analogy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 2:46pm

    I have to wonder at this point if any software can be created or sold that is patent free. As I expect the answer to this question is in the negative then I would think patents are pretty detrimental to promoting the progress of science and the useful arts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 3:13pm

    The big thing here seems to me that they used Apple's own API. Unless I'm seriously misunderstanding what "API" means, the code these people are being sued for using was not written by them, it was written by Apple.
    Of course, Apple has enough money to put up a fight in court. Much easier to pick on the little guy...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Mike42 (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 3:15pm

    Re:

    You are correct. The only thing that protects you from patents is obscurity. Almost all the checks and balances of the USPTO have been nullified. The reviewers are unskilled in the field of programming, but they should be able to rely on the submitter who claims that the patent is not obvious or trivial. There is no consequence for lying, however. Also, prior art defenses have proved weak if not useless in recent years. Add to this poorly written patents which over-generalize, and you have the modern-day disaster.
    Basically, the patent system never really was all that great, but it's been perverted to massively favor litigious patent-holders over community-minded innovators.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, May 13th, 2011 @ 4:12pm

    Re: Smart on his part

    David wrote:

    ... they would use their legal team to squash him like a bug!!!


    You mean, the way Microsoft squashed Eolas?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 4:17pm

    "My advice to app developers: publish your apps only under the protective umbrella of a limited liability company."

    and preferably work with an API that has an agreement which indemnifies it's users from the systems and methods used therein, ie. within the API itself... good luck.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Michael Kohne, May 14th, 2011 @ 5:49am

    Don't the developers have an easy out here?

    It seems to me that if they say they only did these features because Apple made them available, can't the developers easily deflect these suits onto Apple (where they belong, if they belong anywhere).

    I don't know much about the law, so I may be off the mark here, but since the devs didn't come up with this on their own, I can't see how they wouldn't be able to deflect.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Jan Bilek (profile), May 14th, 2011 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re:

    That's probably why he would lose hope for your legal system. Because if defending yourself is so expensive that it can destroy you even if you win so you rather give up even if you are innocent, it means that there is justice just for rich... which means there is no justice at all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    Jan Bilek (profile), May 14th, 2011 @ 8:33am

    jurisdiction?

    I hear that the first news about small developers getting C&D was brought to light in a tweet from Glasgow, Scotland-based developer James Thomson who got one of those... and I don't get it.

    As far as I know Scotland is in European Union and not in the United States and we don't have software patents in EU... so why should we care about idiotic american patent system? Why should Thomas not treat that cease and desist letter as low quality toilet paper? The guy is Scotland based and US courts have no jurisdiction over Scotland - how can they threaten him... and all of us, non-US based app developers? What am I missing?

    Anyway... I know that Silicon Valley is the best place for start-ups and whatnot, but I wonder when are pros of being in the Valley going to outweigh cons of being located in United States and start-ups start to move to less anti-innovation countries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Gordon (profile), May 14th, 2011 @ 10:02am

    Yet another reason......

    ...to abolish software patents, IMHO.

    I've said here before and I'll say it again now, software patents should not be recognized under US law. Only copyright should cover software (the exact coding of the software in question).

    No patents should be granted for something that can be achieved by two or more separate people using different software languages. If it's also something that was going to naturally come to pass, just by the natural progression of technology, it should also never receive a patent.

    My 2 cents.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Brand Troll, May 14th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    Patents

    LODSYS PATENT TROLL don't give in !!! don't give him a dime! They are represented by http://www.kdg-law.com/ a small firm in Seattle. They were the only one that would take him on a contingent base! Trust me they will dump Lodsys soon, as they will be attacked by the BIG firms! Hey lets make a movie...
    PATENT TROLL rated R for RIP OFF!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Don, May 15th, 2011 @ 7:22am

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on May 13th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Your analogy is good for the OEMs that got sued by Microsoft over Google, I think. I'm wondering if Apple's controlling ecosystems would add yo the defence?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    patent litigation, May 16th, 2011 @ 4:13pm

    The point is not whether a patent was "needed," nor is it whether the innovation is obvious now. The question (or one of the questions) is whether the invention was obvious at the time that the patent application was filed. Anyway, sounds like Lodsys just wants to settle and nab some licensing deals. Honestly, it probably would have been smarter for them to go after Apple and/or other deep pockets, if money's all they want, instead of pursuing one-man development shops; after all, you can't bleed a stone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This