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Apple now asking devs about app 'legal issues'

updated 02:40 am EDT, Thu June 9, 2011

In reaction to Lodsys patent intimidation

Apple is now screening app upgrades for legal issues, and asking developers if their apps face any legal problems via iTunes Connect, Information Week has learned. The new questions seem to be a reaction to the actions of patent trolling firm Lodsys, which has sued some developers for patent infringement.

The issue began a month ago, when Lodsys, a holding company that makes all its money from royalties and lawsuit settlements commonly referred to as a "patent troll," began sending letters to developers warning them that their use of in-app purchasing violated its patents. While admitting that Apple itself is licensed for the patents in question, the company claimed that Apple's "pixie dust" didn't extend to iOS developers.

Apple initially reacted to the practice by "actively investigating" the Lodsys claims, and soon thereafter sent Lodsys a letter asserting that its license does indeed cover app developers, and warning the company to stop threatening developers. Lodsys responded by ignoring Apple's letter and filing lawsuits against some thus-far unnamed app developers, and also targeting Android developers for the same alleged patent infringement.

Google has not publicly responded to the Lodsys actions, and neither company has so far offered direct legal or financial help defending itself from the lawsuits, though many targeted developers are currently at the Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco where they may be able to coordinate a response. Google has previously seen its partners sued over patents related to its OS and has not in those cases commented or coordinated any response.

The entire matter took another turn yesterday as a third company, ForeSee Results, has filed suit against Lodsys in Illinois seeking to invalidate four of the patents Lodsys is suing over.

In the meantime, developers may be unable to afford to defend themselves against such suits. Apple developer James Wilson noted the new legal questions on his blog, on the same page that usually contains a longstanding export compliance form. A more direct question "Do you have any apps that may have a legal issue?" also appears on a web submission form under the heading iCloud Legal Information.

Whether the new questions are a direct reaction to the Lodsys matter or just part of a new business model designed to protect Apple (and its App Store) from even more patent-troll lawsuits remains to be seen. Developers are anxious for Apple to do something to shield them, since they used the in-app purchasing system in good faith -- even though legally Apple has no requirement to do so.

Patent law experts say that should Apple -- or Google -- do nothing substantive to support developers, litigious holding firms like Lodsys will create a chilling effect that will discourage future development for the platform. [via Information Week]

By Electronista Staff
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  1. Inkling

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: Jul 2006


    Irresponsible and callous

    This is an irresponsible and perhaps callous move on Apple's part. It's abundantly clear that Apple knew there were potential legal problem with Lodsys's patents and any in-app purchasing app. At the very least, Apple bought protection for its own in-app purchasing systems. It was grossly irresponsible of Apple not to inform developers of the legal issues that might arise if they called up simple-to-invoke features of the iOS development system, particularly features Apple was actively encouraging them to use.

    It's also rather callous of Apple to expect developers operating on a shoestring to be able to make any meaningful statements about whether their apps "may have a legal issue." Our patent system is so screwed up that tens of thousands of dollars spent examining patents probably won't give any meaningful answer. Apple's lawyers know that as well as anyone.

    It's Apple responsibility to explore any potential legal issues that may arise with using their app development tools, to inform third-party developers of those risks and, in many cases, to offer them legal cover against these lawsuits.

  1. elroth

    Junior Member

    Joined: Jul 2006


    re: inkling

    A developer may not know if there is a legal issue, and that's fine. What Apple wants to know is if a developer is submitting the app while a legal issue is pending - that is, has the developer been sued, or been notified they're in violation.

    Very understandable and nothing wrong with it.

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