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iOS Devs Hit by Patent Infringement Notices For In-App Purchases

Here’s an interesting news that’s making the rounds of Twitter this morning, and it appears to be spreading quickly among iOS developers. As first reported by James Thomson, indie iOS and Mac developer of DragThing and PCalc, he woke up this morning to find a “very worrying threat of patent infringement lawsuit” in a FedEx parcel. While Thomson won’t say the name of the company that is threatening to sue him before he gets a reply from Apple Legal on the matter, what’s really curious is the reason behind the alleged patent infringement: it’s not the app Thomson developed, apparently it’s the in-app purchase system he chose to implement in PCalc Lite. Apple’s own in-app purchase payment method, certainly not created by Thomson. This developer, and others with him, are receiving notices from a “patent troll” who’s going after indie developers for using IAP, rather than Apple. The legal threat is worrisome as this company claims developers are given 21 days to license the patent they’re infringing. But this patent, these developers say, it’s not about intellectual property for apps – again, it’s about the payment system. Which Apple created, not the developers.

Looking at the tweets from Thomson, this story doesn’t really make sense. Someone is threatening to sue indie developers because they’re using Apple’s in-app purchase? If so, wouldn’t it be appropriate to sue Apple, which invented the system? And why going after the indie devs in the first place – just to cause anxiety and doubt for the fear of a lawsuit?

Here are some tweets from Thomson, where he details the notice he received and what he’s doing right now to get the issue resolved directly with Apple:




Developer Patrick McCarron also shares a similar experience:


Last, developer Jonathan Freeman says to have received a similar letter:


Like I said above, the story doesn’t really check out, considering in-app purchases were built by Apple and offered to third-party developers as a way to monetize their applications with additional paid content. If a “patent troll” is going after in-app purchases for whatever reason, it would be obvious to file an infringement notice against Apple, not every single iOS developer who’s using IAP. The developers mentioned in this post seem to believe soon many other iOS devs will be hit by this patent infringement notice, and it’s still not clear who’s the company or individual behind all this. Apple Legal has already been contacted about the problem, Thomson says, and we’ll update this post as more details come in throughout the day.

Update: MacRumors is reporting the company in question is Lodsys, which acquired the patent related to this legal action from Dan Abelow. The website reports developer Rob Gloess of Computer LogicX also received the notice of patent infringement, which also applies to the use of an “upgrade button” in the lite version of their app.

Our app, Mix & Mash, has the common model of a limited free, lite, version and a full version that contains all the features. We were told that the button that users click on to upgrade the app, or rather link to the full version on the app store was in breach of US patent no 7222078, we couldn’t believe it, the upgrade button!?!

The patent in question was filed in December 2003 as part of series of continuations on earlier patent applications dating back to 1992. The patent is credited to Dan Abelow, who sold his extensive portfolio of patents to holding firm Lodsys in 2004. Lodsys is indeed the company issuing the threats of a lawsuit regarding the patent in question.

[Cult of Mac via John Siracusa]

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