In response to a lawsuit threatened by apparent patent troll Lodsys, over a dozen iOS developers are trying to organize a boycott of the allegedly infringing in-app purchasing application programming interfaces (APIs).
I’m somewhat surprised at the precise mechanism by which the developers are trying to involve Apple, but Apple’s involvement was nearly a given from the jump.
The developers are the quintessential little guys, with Lodsys playing the schoolyard bully-troll. The developers are all but begging Apple to help them out – and with only a boycott as their financial leverage, they are relying on Apple’s kindness or (more likely) whatever legal obligation Apple may have to defend them or itself.
As reported on Tactical IP last Monday, Lodsys sent letters to several developers last week, demanding either license payments or a lawsuit. Even more developers have been threatened this week, including Twitterific maker Iconfactory.
What makes this more interesting is that Apple created the APIs in question, and has encouraged iOS developers to implement them. Apple claims they licensed the APIs to the developers, but Lodsys has claims that Apple lacks the license to do so.
So, Lodsys has threatened to sue the guys making pennies per app. Apple may have a moral responsibility (how well does morality go over with dollar-minded shareholders?) to step up to the plate. It remains to be seen if the patent over which all these shenanigans are based (US Patent #772,078) is too broad. If so, it could be ruled invalid at trial. It’s getting to trial that is the hard part for shallow-pocketed litigants.
Apple could go toe-to-toe with Lodsys, defend its rights (whatever they might be) and maybe gain some goodwill in the process. After being recently named the most valuable brand in the world, Apple could go either way: (1) we can afford a little bad PR, so screw ‘em; or (2) we can’t afford to lose our pole position; send in the lawyers. There’s no hard evidence that Apple will do either, but it has been reported that Apple is working on a response to Lodsys’ claims.
Some developers may simply decide that API is not worth the hassle or expense. Apple obviously stands to lose out in that arrangement, but it would a lot to reach a critical mass that would directly affect Apple’s bottom line. Again though, Apple’s brand is by far it’s most valuable asset, and a hint of tarnish could devalue the company immensely.
What’s the next step for Lodsys? Probably to target Android and other platforms using the APIs to which they claim patent rights – if they can afford the litigation. Apple might put them in their place before it gets to that stage.