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It’s been another dark month for America’s troubled patent system. The latest news relates to Lodsys, the shell company which claims to own “in-app purchasing,” and which has been putting the screws to app makers for a share of their revenue.
Lodsys has already sued or threatened hundreds (and likely thousands) of app makers. The situation is serious enough that Apple(s appl), warning that 6 million iOS developers are at risk, asked a Texas judge in 2011 to let it participate in a trial where Lodsys is suing the app makers.
Apple says it can join in because it already bought a license for the same patents from Intellectual Ventures, the mother-troll that gave the patents to Lodsys. In Apple’s view, its license should shield the small app developers.
Unfortunately, Apple has just been booted out of court. As Ars Technica explains, the federal judge overseeing the Texas case ruled that Apple’s motion only applies to seven specific app maker defendants — and Lodsys has just reached settlements with all seven.
The ruling amounts to a technicality since other iOS developers are still in Lodsys’s cross-hairs in the very same case — and the question of whether Apple’s license protects app developers is still a live issue.
So what happened? Why did the judge refuse to even hear Apple? The outcome is likely tied to the fact that the case was taking place in the federal district for Eastern Texas — a cluster of small towns that turned patent trolling into a major cottage industry, welcoming lawyers from across the country to sue app developers and everyone else.
The upshot, as Ars notes, is that Lodsys can continue its rampage as Apple tries to get its foot back in the door. Meanwhile, the app developers best hope for now may be Martha Stewart — who became annoyed by Lodsys and last week sued to crush its patents in Wisconsin.