App Store developers who offer in-app purchasing are receiving threats of legal action today. The threats accuse devs of patent infringement regarding Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism, but the patent holder appears to be targeting independent developers individually instead of going after Apple itself.


UPDATED. Developers who offer in-app purchasing in their apps for iOS might want to check their mailboxes this morning, as apparently FedEx-delivered lawsuit threats are currently making the rounds. The threats accuse devs of patent infringement regarding Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism, but the patent holder appears to be targeting independent developers individually instead of going after Apple itself.

James Thomson of TLA Systems was the first to discuss the threat early Friday morning, as reported by Cult of Mac. Thomson was targeted by the patent holder because of in-app purchases available to users of pCalc, an iOS scientific calculator app. Thomson reports that though he hasn’t been sued yet, the patent holder wants him to license their tech, and gave him 21 days to comply.

Thomson isn’t alone, either. Patrick McCarron, who creates apps for MobileAge, also confirmed receiving the same notice via FedEx early Friday. McCarron’s offending app was a game, so it seems like the company behind this is casting a wide net. Neither Thomson nor McCarron has yet to reveal the name of the company targeting them, though McCarron did assert that it’s not MacroSolve, a company that has been very active recently in enforcing its mobile technology patents.

Apple has been contacted by both devs, and will likely move quickly to respond to these threats in order to prevent widespread concern among the developer community. As of yet, Apple has yet to comment officially on this development. We reached out for comment, but have yet to hear back.

This kind of suit could provide a dangerous precedent, if not quickly quashed. Google and RIM recently introduced in-app purchasing, and presumably those systems would also be in violation of these patents. We’re working on discovering the source of the threats, and will update when more information becomes available.

UPDATE: The company behind the patent suit threats is apparently Lodsys, a patent holding firm which has held patent no. 7222078 (the one which is claimed to have been violated) since 2004. Lodsys cited the same patent, along with several others, when it filed suit against a number of major printer companies in early 2011, according to MacRumors.

Lodsys’ entire business consists of licensing the patents it holds, which is completely in keeping with the licensing demands developers have so far been receiving. If you feel like making your feelings about this latest round of threats known to Lodsys, you can contact the company directly via its official website.

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  1. Troll lawyers need to be killed.

  2. TheGreatBug Friday, May 13, 2011

    This is just evil. If they can’t fight back, this could have a horrible effect on iOS software.

  3. John Gallagher Friday, May 13, 2011

    This is a pathetic attempt to scare a great community of hard working developers. This community has been very good to me and these people are now under threat of legal action for using something that was supplied to them. Just sent my email of complaint to Lodsys, not that it’ll change anything. So angry.

  4. Totally agree with you re the need for Apple to throw its vast resources behind its developer community, and quickly. It’s not only the ‘right’ thing to do, it’s also the right move for Apple’s own self-interest.

  5. Florian Mueller Friday, May 13, 2011

    This is already the second company asserting a patent against app developers. Six weeks ago I reported on another company that is already suing several app developers (larger ones than the ones targeted by Lodsys, however). And I’m afraid we’ll see more such attacks. My recommendation to developers: set up a limited liability company for publishing your apps: http://fosspatents.blogspot.com/2011/05/what-will-apple-do-second-patent-attack.html

  6. Here’s the public linkedIn profile of the scumbag CEO who runs this company: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-small/0/840/b61

  7. Dan Berlyoung Friday, May 13, 2011

    The cowards don’t even have a ‘send us an email’ link. Only a non-linked email address. Feh.

  8. How long until someone file a class-action lawsuit against this company?

  9. Wow, quite a stretch on that patent being about in-app purchase at all!! i agree with James!

  10. It’s hard for journalists and politicians to get too worked up about patent trolls suing startups, but maybe indie developers /individuals will make for a better human interest angle. In the best of all possible worlds, I would love to see this be an impetus towards real patent reform. The current system is so silly.

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