Apple rejects iOS in-app patent claim

By Liam Tung on May 24, 2011 11:08 AM
Filed under Software

Fears that a small fee threatens the apps business.

Apple has sent an email to iOS app developers targeted in a wide-reaching patent claim over the vendor's in-app purchasing system. 

Developers of iOS applications in the US have grown nervous over the past week, wondering whether Apple would respond to a patent claim made by Lodsys, which owns several licenses that underpin in-app purchases on iOS devices.

Lodsys last week issued a statement that it was merely “seeking an economic return to sell the lawfully acquired rights” by asking developers for a .0575 per cent cut of every US transaction made using its patent. 

Apple's legal counsel on Monday sent Lodsys and its app developers a cease and desist letter in which it rejects Lodsys' claims.  

"Apple is undisputedly licensed to these patent and the Apple App Makers are protected by that license. There is no basis for Lodsys’ infringement allegations against Apple’s App Makers,"  wrote Bruce Sewell, Apple's senior vice president and general counsel, according to the letter published by Macworld.  

Apple's first official comment on the matter appeared to ease fears among its developer partners.

“Excellent email from Apple in my inbox regarding the patent stuff,” Gedeon Maheux, a designer at the iOS app-making iconfactory posted on Twitter on Monday

Apple's letter points out its in-app purchasing system relies heavily on its own intellectual property, such as its APIs and hardware, and that Lodsys essentially misunderstood Apple's license.

"I believe that your letters are based on a fundamental misapprehension regarding Apple’s license and the way Apple’s products work," wrote Sewell, confident that his argument would be "sufficient for you to withdraw your outstanding threats to the App Makers".

Apple's response came after several calls for it to intervene in the claim, directed at developers who had no choice but to use Apple's in-app purchasing system.

Most developers would also be unable to foot the legal expenses to defend a claim, Maheux’s iconfactory colleague Craig Hockenberry wrote in an open letter to Steve Jobs.

The cost of defending such a claim could cost over US$1 million, according to a Macworld analysis.

There was further concern that Apple's developer agreement left developers out in the cold if they faced legal challenges for using its technology, wrote Julie Samuels, an attorney for Electronic Frontiers Foundation.    

 Others believed Lodsys’ practice would jeopardise the viability of entire apps industry.

Lodsys is trying to abuse the patent system in a way that could ultimately destroy the entire mobile apps economy,” according to intellectual property activist, Florian Mueller

Mueller conceded that Lodsys' role as a licensing manager is a worthwhile function, but said that patents are "only legimitate and desirable if it's about commercialising actual innovations."

 
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