Lodsys is a patent holding company that has been sending threatening letters to iOS developers warning them that they need to licence its patents or face legal action.
The patent in question relates to putting an “upgrade” button in an app so users can convert from a free to fee-based version. Apple already had a licence for the patent through a previous deal with Intellectual Ventures — the big patent-holding company founded by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold. But Lodsys said that the deal didn’t cover third-party developers.
The developers complained to Apple, and today Apple basically told Lodsys to back off. In a letter to Lodsys, Apple’s chief counsel Bruce Sewell wrote:
Apple is undisputedly licensed to these patent and the Apple App Makers are protected by that licence. There is no basis for Lodsys’ infringement allegations against Apple’s App Makers. Apple intends to share this letter and the information set out herein with its App Makers and is fully prepared to defend Apple’s licence rights.
In other words, if you’re going to shake down our customers, you’re going to have to fight us first.
Legally, Apple’s argument hinges on the fact that iOS developers use the patents to create apps that Apple sells through the App Store, and that run exclusively on Apple devices. Therefore, Apple’s licence applies.
Intellectual property activist Florian Mueller notes that even if Apple is right, Lodsys can still make life painful for small developers — they might have to hire a lawyer, fly to East Texas (a notorious district for successful patent infringement lawsuits, and where Lodsys just happens to be located), and work out with Apple any deals to cover costs.
MacWorld published the full text of the letter, if you’re into reading legalese.