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Lodsys scrambling to keep Apple out of patent suit with iOS developers

by Phil Hornshaw

The latest filings in the patent dispute case seem to suggest that Lodsys can’t find a good legal reason to keep Apple out of the lawsuit Lodsys has brought against app developers on Apple’s iOS mobile platform.

The story comes from law site Groklaw, which analyzes Lodsys latest filing (available here) as the tech company struggles to counter Apple’s motions to be able to participate in the case. According to Groklaw’s analysis, Lodsys is struggling to find a legal reason to keep Apple out of the proceedings, and without a compelling reason to get a judge to bar Apple from participating in the suit, it could spell doom for Lodsys’ patent infringement allegations.

The case stems from claims that Lodsys is making against multiple mobile developers that they infringe on a patent the company holds for in-app purchases. Apple and Google both pay royalty fees to Lodsys for the use of this patent with their in-app purchases on their mobile platforms, but a few months back, Lodsys started sending letters to mobile developers asking for licensing fees or threatening lawsuits. Developers feared that paying Lodsys fees would cause other so-called “patent trolls” to come calling for money as well, making mobile development too expensive to be a worthwhile business venture. That’s bad for everyone, but especially for Apple.

Apple sent letters to Lodsys claiming that its licenses extend to its developers, but Lodsys went to court over the patent issue. Apple has filed motions to be added as a defendant in the case, which would put its considerable resources in the corner of the embattled developers – something Lodsys really doesn’t want to happen.

In its filing, Apple argues that it should be allowed to participate because the in-app purchase technology is basically baked into its iOS platform, and it authorizes developers to use it; that means that Apple has a vested interest in defending itself and its use of the technology.

The Groklaw post points out that Lodsys fails to come up with a decent way of refuting any of Apple’s points, however, and doesn’t cite any legal precedents to back up its position. Apple’s case seems bolstered by its licensing agreement that Lodsys has admitted publicly to issuing, and it appears that the patent holder won’t be able to hold Apple back.

Of course, it’s still true that anything can happen, but if Apple gets in on this case, Lodsys is going to definitely have a much harder time of winning it. On the other hand, developers will basically have Apple coming to their rescue, because without the big corporation’s backing, developers may not have the money to fight off Lodsys in court. Indeed, it seems the outcome of the case could hinge on how the case’s judge rules on Apple’s motion.