iOS developers being threatened with patent infringement over in-app purchase system [Updated]

iOS developers being threatened with in-app purchase patent infringement?

Developer James Thomson reported on Twitter this morning that he's been threatened with patent infringement for his use of in-app purchases in PCalc Lite.

Just got hit by very worrying threat of patent infringement lawsuit for using in-app purchase in PCalc Lite. Legal docs arrived via fedex.

No idea what to do... They seem to be effectively claiming the rights to in-app purchase, but going after me, not Apple.

Talking to Apple now, may go quiet on this for the short term until I know what's happening.

So, have talked to Apple contact - currently scanning everything in to send. Sorry folks, no PCalc 2.4 happening today.

To be clear, I haven't been sued yet - I've been told that I am infringing their patent, they want me to license it, and I have 21 days.

Thomson isn't the lone target of these threats, his UK timezone might just have gotten them to him sooner. Already Patrick McCarron has reported the same thing.

Anyone else get a patent threat via FedEx for in-app purchase use in their iOS app? So far @jamesthomson and I got hit.

I can now check off being threatened by a patent troll off my bucket list.

There are likely other developers who simply haven't chosen to come forward yet. If you've gotten a FedEx patent threat today, let us know.

UPDATE: The company claiming infringement is Lodsys and they seem to be targeting iOS apps that have free/lite versions and full versions, and link to or allow updating within app from free/lite to full. Rob Gloess of Computer LogicX was hit yesterday [MacRumors]

Our app, Mix & Mash, has the common model of a limited free, lite, version and a full version that contains all the features. We were told that the button that users click on to upgrade the app, or rather link to the full version on the app store was in breach of US patent no 7222078, we couldn't believe it, the upgrade button!?!

UPDATE 2: Apparently, according to the iOS SDK license, developers are not allowed to settle these kinds of lawsuits. [TidBITS]

[@jamestomson, @McCarron]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 41 comments. Add yours.

tham says:

Wait, who's claiming to have patented in-app purchasing? In any case, this should be directed to Apple, not developers. That would be like Apple suing every consumer who bought and uses a Galaxy S, instead of suing Samsung.

OrionAntares#CB says:

I think a more accurate analogy would be Apple suing each retailer for selling a Galaxy S instead of Samsung.

Hypnotosov says:

Or Microsoft going after phone manufacturers over Google's alleged Android infringement... oh wait...

Rob says:

Who are the threats coming from? Who ever it is, it's kind of a smart move to go after the developers instead of apple. If you want to bring down apple, go after the people who support it. I wonder how apple will respond. They have been put into a position where they can either spend tons of money in legal fees defending the developers that make iOS great, or hang them out to dry.

He Hate Me says:

if the tech in in the app and not the apple product then they'd have to go after the app maker.

cardfan says:

Sounds silly. Apple charges 30% to run the in-app purchasing along with everything else. The whole payment process is outsourced in a sense to apple. If anyone had a claim, you go after Apple.
In other words, its Apple's in-app purchase system. You can't sue someone else over it.

RodneyJ725 says:

Well, I think the lawsuit is interesting, but will fail.
The developer is being targeted for 2 reasons. 1. Apple did not create the software, the developer did, and Apple had no control over what the developer decided to do (in-app purchases, vs just add all the features). 2. Easier to scare a developer, who has little resources such as attorneys experienced in this sort of thing, than Apple and their army of battle-hardened attorneys.

iSRS says:

Exactly. Maybe Apple will step forward and offer to handle the litigation for these developers. Interesting we don't know who this "person/group" is

RodneyJ725 says:

I hope they can get some expert help. I'm just start out as an iOS Developer...
Hyenas always go after isolated Lion Cubs, and rarely after the King of Beasts…

Haroh says:

The US patent system generally sucks. Its obviously broken.

Kyle says:

+1 I couldn't have said it any better. Apple will need to step up the plate, or face its developers either doing 1 of 2 things. 1. They will have to charge higher prices and just sell the apps with everything in it. This will basically slow, if not start a decline on the App Store, because people wont buy high priced apps unless it is of the best quality. 2. They will pull the app from they store and may not resubmit it if this blows over, which could take months or even years, and costing that developer and Apple a lot of money.

(Copy of) Dev says:

While this seems silly on the face of it, it is not necessarily any sillier than a patent on a pinch-to-zoom hand gesture, which most people around these parts cheered last year, and which Apple has used against Android (and waved against Palm). Regardless of the owner, patents should be about implementations, not concepts.

tham says:

But did Apple sue every Android developer who used pinch-to-zoom?

OrionAntares#CB says:

The concept of suing over this is silly on the surface yes. However, it gets even sillier when you go deeper than the surface and realize that the developers are implementing a system essentially sold to them by another company. If you'd want to file a suit like this you'd be filing against the company selling the product, not the people using it.

sting7k says:

No mention of who is claiming these patents?

Rene Ritchie says:

Seems to be Lodsys, we updated.

markied85 says:

The patent number refers to a patent named "Methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity" ... it primarily deals with providing customer feedback in the form of a survey on a screen. It shows diagrams like "did you like the method for modifying this fax machines settings? please rate 1-5".
Honestly, they're going after developers so that it gets picked up in the press like this. If they issued these against apple it would get swept under the rug in no time as a bad claim.

Joe McG says:

Stupid patent trolls. "If it's sent via Fedex, it will scare them into giving us money". Honestly sounds like a sophisticated craigslist scam to me...

Antic says:

Looks like they have gone after some big name companies as well back in Feb of this year...
http://www.action-intell.com/2011/02/16/lodsys-launches-patent-infringem...
They seem to be following the "If you can't innovate, litigate" business model.
Wonder if he used to work at SCO ?

blyths says:

Complete BS - PC apps have had in-app purchasing for much longer than iOS has existed.

OrionAntares#CB says:

Don't worry, there are papers on the way to the respective companies for Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera; the ultimate generic in-app purchasing offenders!

sting7k says:

I don't get it, that patent doesn't even mention an upgrade button anywhere. Not to mention, how many applications on the PC for decades have had "buttons" to get a full version or other features.
Are these people going to go after EA and Activision too for their games that have upgrades in-app? Looks like just the small guys with shallow pockets.

sting7k says:

So according to the story Antic posted they claim that; Brother, Canon, HP, Hulu, Lenovo, Lexmark, Motorola, Novell, Samsung, and Trend Micro have infringed U.S. patent 7,222,078.

Rob says:

It also seems as though lodsys is just a guy who thinks of stuff and patents it. So suing people is his entire business model.

rgar3388 says:

Doesn't every business just think of stuff and then patent it haha.

johncblandii says:

Weak.
Expect Android app devs to get hit next.

Jonathan Seals says:

Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, and Scott Forstall, please give these assholes a slow and painful death.

Paul says:

Ultimate show of support for developers would be for Steve and Co. to act like the indie devs big brother and beat up the patent troll bullies.

Glenn#IM says:

Is it that easy to get a patent on things you just think up? They use to research, and if you were even close to an existing patent, they would refuse, and send you back to the drawing board. Looks like it is just one guy that owns the company. You cannot really find much about him. The patent system is really broken. Are you next TiPb to get sued? To post this I have to hit publish, does he have a patent on the publish icon? I guess if he sues enough companies, and people he thinks he will make money. Silly.

sting7k says:

More interesting is the second update now. What are these developers supposed to do?

Ord says:

Patent 7222078 has as one of it's claims:
24. The system of claim 1 wherein the two-way local interactions comprise a transaction for sale of a product or a service contract for the commodity.
Which is probably the specific claim that they are referring to. Will be interesting to see how Apple responds.

Franz Taptanium says:

In response to the patent threat, I came up with an idea that could soften the problem in general: http://bit.ly/jAU7gG - spread the word if you want this to become reality.

Deon says:

It doesn't imply that they are being sued for HAVING in-app purchases - it's the "upgrade" option (download full version).
If someone took out a patent on this, then others can't do it without licensing.
Stupid that patent office allowed a patent on this. It's like allowing a patent on the door: I invented the door, so anyone else who wants to use one has to pay me!

Robert says:

Just another reason to develop for Android and another reason why Apple will fail. sigh

Chris Vitek says:

Apple better be on the ball to help defend them, since Apple doesn't allow settlements.

richchestmat#IM says:

So are they claiming to have invented Shareware? That means they waited about 23 years to do something about it?

Runswithscissors#IM says:

Hilarious....
Apple sues for patent infringement = GOOD! Apple must protect their intellectual property!
Someone else sues for patent infringement = PATENT TROLL!!!

bobbyp5 says:

I was reading over some doc's about lydsys or w/e their name is.And it seems that they just try to scam anyone that seems to be going towards their "patents territory." These guys are idiots and will get what they deserve. But def. trolls in my opinion.

uffo says:

I don't know what sucks more the US patent system ,the legal system where you can sue who ever you want for the smallest thing or the moral standards of such a people. F***** patent trolls. Just take a look at all the systems there how they stated to protect small people and innovation and now things are turned around. Rich gets richer, poor goes poorer ...