What are my options?
This leaves app developers with a limited set of options. The easiest and safest is to avoid in-app purchases and upgrades altogether. Apps that don't perform any further interaction with an app store once they are downloaded are not subject to Lodsys's current claims. But then, doubtless many developers will be loath to forgo one of the mobile app market's most promising revenue models, particularly when so many are still struggling to turn a profit.
The second option is to go ahead and license Lodsys's patents. If you can afford it, this is probably the next-best solution. But can you afford it? Lodsys wants to negotiate a separate licensing agreement with each developer, and the license won't come with a one-time fee. A sample license structure shows Lodsys asking for 0.575 percent of U.S. revenue -- $1 million in sales would incur a fee of $5,750 for that year -- but that's just one example. You won't know what you're actually expected to pay until you talk to Lodsys, and once you initiate negotiations it will be hard to back out without drawing down a lawsuit.
A third option is to do nothing, keep your head down, and hope you never hear from Lodsys. If you aren't earning any significant revenue, it won't be worth Lodsys's time to pursue you. Still, this tack is surely the riskiest. If Lodsys does go as far as to file an actual lawsuit against you, you will be compelled to respond -- and the resulting legal battle and likely settlement will be costly.
Of course, if you're really gung-ho, you could go ahead and challenge Lodsys in court. Don't expect the fight to be easy, though. Even if a judge finds that you are covered under Apple's patent license, by the time the proceedings are over, the $1,000 Lodsys has offered to pay will seem like a pittance.
These patents must die
Even if Apple can obtain a judgment indemnifying every iOS developer under its patent license, this story won't be over. Lodsys will still be free to go after printers, televisions, stereo equipment, kiosks, or any other devices that seem to fall under the rubric of its incredibly broad patents.
The best possible outcome now would be for Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other IT vendors to band together in a consortium aimed at attacking the patents' language in the courts. If such a consortium could inflict enough damage to the patents' claims, Lodsys would likely be willing to sell the patents rather than see them invalidated outright. In this way, such a consortium could remove one barrier to innovation in the mobile app space, while simultaneously holding the Lodsys patents as a kind of "doomsday device" against future, similar claims.
The larger issue, of course, is that the Lodsys situation underscores how woefully broken the U.S. patent system has become, particularly where it applies to software. I've used this space to urge the Obama administration to explore patent reform before. That was two years ago, and not much progress has been made. Now that the patent issue is once again so prominent in the news, we can only hope that our legislators use this opportunity to push forward real change.
This article, "Lodsys vs. developers: Can Apple save the day?," originally appeared at infoworld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at infoworld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow infoworld.com on Twitter.