The Origin of U.S. Patent 7,222,078
"Even if the potential plaintiff's claim or patent is not a good one, it will still cost tens of thousands of dollars to go to court to prove that it's a baseless case."
Apple's Patent License
According to a post on the Lodsys blog, "Apple is licensed for its nameplate products and services." So is Google, and Microsoft, the firm claims. Apple's decision to license the patent should not be viewed as any indication that the patent is applicable in this case, however. Rather, the company may have decided to license the patent simply because it was cheaper to pay a fee than to run the risks of litigation, as is often true with intellectual property (IP) cases. It's also possible that Apple licensed the patent for another product, unrelated to iOS. Samuels expects Apple to offer its full support to developers targeted by Lodsys, perhaps even extending its license to cover them.
EFF's Julie Samuels explains:
What Lodsys Wants
The fact that Google and Microsoft and Apple have taken licenses on this already doesn't say that the patent is a great patent, but it does show that at some point Apple decided it was more financially beneficial to take the license than to litigate. Because Apple has already made that value judgement before, they might make it again.
"Lodsys isn't helping society out by adding inventions, instead they're creating a tax impeding further innovation."
Apples and Oranges
EFF sees intellectual property cases on a daily basis, though it recognizes that elements of this case in particular are unique. Cases like this don't often receive this level of attention, especially when they don't go to trial (and patent cases very rarely do go to trial). Additionally, it's rare for a plaintiff to defend its actions publicly, but Apple's involvement has made this front page news, pressuring Lodsys to reach out through its blog. It's also very unusual that Apple's licensing agreement doesn't cover third-party developers, Samuels said. Since Apple provides the framework (and takes a 30 percent cut of profits), iOS developers should feel safe using the dev tools without being concerned about infringing patents that haven't been licensed. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they wouldn't be held accountable if an infringement case went to trial. Because it needs to provide a safe development environment, however, it sure seems like Apple should take the lead on a defense or licensing solution, or risk losing its devs.
Though we may never know exactly what motivated Lodsys to target individual developers, we hope that Apple offers to lend a hand, providing assurance that future cases will be handled swiftly and directly. This action would leave developers with the resources necessary to continue innovating, rather than wasting their time worrying about infringement accusations from non-practicing entities. Apple's framework was provided by Apple, and while the company may not be legally responsible for protecting developers, those relationships are critical to maintaining -- and continuing to grow -- a healthy, solid infrastructure.
P.S. We just received word that Iconfactory (Twitterific) received a letter from Lodsys today.
Update: A reader directed us to the Patent Assignment Abstract of Title, which clearly lists Lodsys as the assignee, as of September 2, 2010. Curiously, the contact remains the same as when Webvention held the patent, and both companies are listed in Marshall, TX -- just 0.7 miles apart.