By now you've doubtless heard about the threat to mobile app developers from Lodsys, a company that claims to own patents covering aspects of in-app purchases and upgrades. In May, the company sent letters to several iOS developers notifying them of possible infringement and requesting negotiations for patent licensing.
For its part, Apple maintains it has already licensed the patents and that its license extends to third parties enrolled in its developer program. A formal letter to this effect, addressed to Lodsys and signed by Apple's general counsel, elicited a collective sigh of relief from many in the iOS developer community.
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But it's too soon to celebrate. Lodsys disputes Apple's claim, to the extent that if it sends you an infringement notice and a court later finds Apple's patent rights extend to you, Lodsys says it will pay you $1,000. Furthermore, Lodsys's patent claims are not restricted to the iOS platform; apps that perform similar functions on Android, BlackBerry, Palm OS, Windows Phone, and other platforms may also be subject to them, and developers of apps for these OSes would not be indemnified by Apple's license.
Lodsys's chief response to Apple's letter has been to step up its game. This week it went beyond sending infringement notices and filed its first seven lawsuits against app makers, leaving developers with a renewed set of questions: Could I be next? What do I do if I am? Will Apple be able to help me, and will it even try? And when will this whole nightmare be over?
What do the Lodsys patents really cover?
Some iOS developers have expressed bitterness that Apple has "forced them to use patented technology" to conduct in-app purchases and upgrades, but the situation isn't so simple. There's likely very little Apple could have done to avoid a confrontation with Lodsys.