Apple needs to rescue developers from patent trolls

Apple should take responsibility and find a solution to protect developers from patent trolling

Apple iOS app developers are being threatened with patent infringement lawsuits. But, the app developers are simply following the rules that Apple mandated, so ultimately the ball is in Apple's court to find a resolution.

At issue are patents related to the in-app purchasing that Apple requires for apps that sell content or services. Apparently, Apple has licensed the appropriate patents, but that licensing doesn't carry through to the app developers.

Lodsys, the company that holds the patents in questions, explained in a blog post, "The scope of their current licenses does NOT enable them to provide "pixie dust" to bless another (3rd party) business applications."

Unfortunately, these third-party developers face a Catch-22. With Apple requiring the use of the allegedly patent-infringing technologies in order to get iOS apps approved, and Lodsys suing them or requiring a cut of the revenue, app developers are between a rock and a hard place that could very well squash many of them right out of business.

Sure, an occasional Angry Birds comes along, but the vast majority of iOS apps aren't pulling in millions. Many apps are developed by small businesses or individuals that don't have the financial resources to mount a legal defense. At the same time, most apps also don't generate enough revenue to go around.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) expects Apple to step up and defend developers. An EFF blog post declares, "We've been waiting expectantly for Apple to step up and protect the app developers accused of patent infringement solely for using a technology that Apple required they use in order to sell their apps in Apple's App Store."

It would be one thing if app developers arbitrarily chose to include the technology in apps, but they didn't. In fact, most app developers would much rather not have to include the in-app purchase option and share 30 per cent of the revenue with Apple. But, Apple made them do it. The alternative is to simply not develop apps.

The EFF sums up with, "By putting the burden on those least able to shoulder it, both Apple and Lodsys are harming not just developers but also the consumers who will see fewer apps and less innovation."

The burden here should fall on Apple. Apple needs to either renegotiate a broader licensing deal with Lodsys that comes complete with pixie dust that can be shared with third-party app developers, or it needs to modify its developer terms of services so that the use of such technology is not a requirement. The third option is for Apple to at least step in and provide the legal defense for app developers to mount an effective challenge to the Lodsys legal action.

Your move, Apple.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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