Apple should defend its developers from IP trolls

Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation has blasted Apple for remaining silent on a number of developers who have fallen foul of an ongoing patent spat.

Lodsys, which the EFF's Julie Samuels describes as, "a troll whose sole business model is owning and suing on patents," has written to multiple developers telling them that they are breaking the law by using in-app purchasing functionality which Apple provides as part of its software developer's kit (SDK).

According to Samuels, Apple itself is protected from legal action because it holds a licence to use the patented technology, but that licence doesn't seem to extend to third-party developers, several of whom have received demands for payment from Lodsys.

Explaining that the case is due to a legal loophole called 'misallocation of burden', Samuels maintains that Apple has left its developers hanging out to dry over the issue. "The law generally works to ensure that the party in the best position to address an issue bears the responsibility of handling that issue. In the copyright context, for example, the default assumption is that the copyright owners are best positioned to identify potential infringement," she writes.

"This is because, among other reasons, copyright owners know what content they own and which of their works have been licensed. Here, [without] protection from Apple, developers hoping to avoid a legal dispute must investigate each of the technologies that Apple provides to make sure none of them is patent-infringing."

Many small developers, who already pay Apple 30 per cent of any cash they make flogging apps through the company's iTunes App Store infrastructure, will have assumed that APIs provided by Apple, and which in these cases are essential, would have been cleared for public use.

Six of the top-ten grossing apps in iTunes are currently 'freemium' games which require users to use in-app purchase in order to properly play the games. They include Infinity Blade and Angry Birds, both produced by major companies and both potentially open to the same patent infringement accusations.

Although more than a week has passed since Lodsys caused a storm by targeting the developer, Apple has remained tight lipped about the actions.

Although most major software makers have large legal departments tasked with clearing every element of a new game's structure for possible patent infringements, small independent developers obviously don't have the same luxury.

"By putting the burden on those least able to shoulder it, both Apple and Lodsys are harming not just developers but also the consumers who will see fewer apps and less innovation, said Samuels. "We hope that going forward companies like Apple will do what's right and stand up for their developers and help teach the patent trolls a lesson."