Apple defends app makers against Lodsys lawsuit threat

24 May 2011

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Apple has reacted strongly to a threat of legal action against iOS app developers who may be sued by patents firm Lodsys, alleging they breached patents on an in-app purchasing system.

The multi-billion dollar tech giant has issued a letter to Lodsys, which in recent weeks threatened a number of iOS developers with a lawsuit if they didn’t pay Lodsys a licence for the patents.

Lodysys is a company that owns patents on technologies created by Harvard graduate Dan Abelow. The patents have been licensed to many of the leading global tech giants, including Apple, Google and Nokia.

Because the developers have built their apps using Apple’s Developer Toolkit, many of them referred Lodsys’ claims to Apple’s legal department.

In the letter from Apple SVP and general counsel Bruce Sewell to Lodsys, Apple said: “Apple is undisputedly licensed to these patents and the Apple app makers are protected by that licence. There is no basis for Lodsys’ infringement allegations against Apple’s app makers. Apple intends to share this letter and the information set out herein with its app makers and is fully prepared to defend Apple’s licence rights.”

In the letter, Apple said it is licensed to all four of the patents in the Lodsys portfolio.

“Lodsys’ infringement allegations against Apple’s app makers rest on Apple products and services covered by the licence. These Apple products and services are offered by Apple to the app makers to enable them to interact with the users of Apple products – such as the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and the Apple iOS operating system – through the use of Apple’s App Store, Apple software development kits, and Apple application program interfaces (‘APIs’) and Apple servers and other hardware.”

Apple pointed out that a technology targeted in the Lodsys claim relates to the two-way communication between users, the APIs and Apple servers.

“The technology that is targeted in your notice letters is technology that Apple is expressly licensed under the Lodsys patents to offer to Apple’s app makers. These licensed products and services enable Apple’s app makers to communicate with end users through the use of Apple’s own licensed hardware, software, APIs, memory, servers and interfaces, including Apple’s App Store. Because Apple is licensed under Lodsys’ patents to offer such technology to its app makers, the app makers are entitled to use this technology free from any infringement claims by Lodsys.”

Apple quoted a Supreme Court ruling in a case between LG and Quanta Computer and said Lodsys’ threatened claims are barred by the doctrines of patent exhaustion and first sale.

“Therefore, Apple requests that Lodsys immediately withdraw all notice letters sent to Apple app makers and cease its false assertions that the app makers’ use of licensed Apple products and services in any way constitute infringement of any Lodsys patent,” Apple’s senior counsel Bruce Sewell said in the letter.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com