Research In Motion’s lousy year just got a little worse. Already beset by declining smart phone sales and a troubled tablet, the BlackBerry maker is now being targeted by the king of the patent trolls, Lodsys.
On Wednesday, the Globe and Mail revealed that a Canadian app developer received a notorious Lodsys letter. These letters offer a “licensing opportunity” that allow victims to pay big bucks to Lodsys in return for not being hit with spurious patent litigation.
The target of the letter is Rotten Ogre, a small app shop that sells a game called Lonely Turret that lets users “protect your base from attacking enemies” (it is not clear if these enemies include lawyers..)
The patents in question are reportedly related to a button that allows users to make in-app purchases. This is consistent with the wave of lawsuits that Lodsys has launched against app developers for Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google’s Android.
In those lawsuits, developers have called on Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Apple to come to their rescue — in no small part because the Lodsys patents relates to technology that the companies themselves provided to the app makers. Apple is shielded from direct litigation because it licensed the patents in question from their previous owner.
Apple this summer filed to intervene in the Lodsys litigation, saying its patent license should also cover its developers. Meanwhile, Google has formally asked the US Patent Office to re-examine the patents in the hopes they will be invalidated.
Research In Motion is almost certain to be called on to enter the fray as skittish developers seek reassurance they will not be sued for making BlackBerry apps. RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
RIM already has bitter firsthand experience with patent trolls, known more politely as “non-practicing entities” or NPEs.
In 2006, RIM helped put patent trolls on the map when it reached a dramatic last-minute settlement for $612 million with NTP, a shell company owned by a lawyer who had obtained the patents of a dead inventor. The settlement came as NTP was on the verge of obtaining an injunction that would have forced RIM to shut down its BlackBerries worldwide.