The patent trolls are back, and this time they're after you

Lodsys, Personal Audio, and Project Paperless continue to hit developers and businesses with frivolous lawsuits -- and are reaping the rewards

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To its credit, Apple jumped into the Lodsys fray two years ago, warning Lodsys that it's "fully prepared" to defend its license right and saying, "Under its license, Apple is entitled to offer these licensed products and services to its customers and business partners, who, in turn, have the right to use them." What's more, Apple filed a successful motion to intervene in the case, which should be a big help to the developers. Google stepped up as well, arguing that the U.S. Patent and Tradmark Office should side with the app developers.

Even so, that particular case, which named 11 app developers as defendants, is still pending in, you guessed it, the federal district court in Marshall, Texas. That leaves a huge cloud, not to mention huge legal expenses, hanging over the heads of the developers.

The technology economy at risk

Not only do these lawsuits threaten the developers, they threaten the technology economy as a whole. If businesses have to start worrying whether buying a network printer or producing a podcast or purchasing an app exposes them to a patent-infringement claim, they'll stop paying for new technology.

Perhaps the biggest threat is to mobile technology, which is now in a period of fervent experimentation and innovation. "Lodsys is trying to abuse the patent system in a way that could ultimately destroy the entire mobile apps economy, which is not only thriving on its own but has been and continues to be a key factor in making new mobile devices so useful and popular," said Florian Müller, a European patent consultant who has pushed for reforms.

I've watched this case over the last couple of years, and the new burst of malicious activity convinces me that I was overly optimistic that the intervention two years ago by deep-pocketed companies like Apple would make Lodsys go away. Not only is Lodsys still playing the patent-abuse game, but new companies like Project Paperless and Personal Audio have joined in.

Here, by the way, is how Lodsys explains itself:

There are lots of bills in life that it would be preferable to not pay if one didn't have to. Lodsys is just trying to get value for assets that it owns, just like each and every company selling products or services is, trying to do business and make a profit. It's odd that some of the companies that received notices had such a visceral reaction. Some of these companies have our favorite apps, for which we paid the asking price. We realize you have to get paid for your work, and so do we.

What a load of bull. Frankly, I'd have more respect for Lodsys if it simply manned up and said what it really means: Greed is good.

The patent system itself is ultimately at fault and needs radical surgery.

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This article, "The patent trolls are back, and this time they're after you," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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