Lodsys LLC, if you haven't heard about them yet, is a company that holds a patent that applies to 'in-app purchases' even though applying it to mobile in-app purchases is stretching it. Lodsys LLC isn't just hitting Android indie developers, a bunch over on the iOS platform also have received letters of intent from the company.
Lodsys LLC tactics are borderline shady as they go for the small indie developers knowing the majority of them could not stand up against them in court simply due to a patent case in a court costs considerable money and time, both of which are dear to indie developers. The latest to get hit with Lodsys LLC's welcome package was Cory Trese of the Trese brothers who developed the highly popular Star Traders RPG.
The patent in question is No. 7,222,078 which, according to Lodsys, includes most forms of in-app purchasing on all smartphone platforms.These letters that are landing in developer laps right now are not your typical Cease and Desist letters but are, instead, letters of a threat. In a C&D letter, generally the company involved asks you to change a feature, name or other option in order to not violate any trademark/patent that they hold. Should you not do so, then the option to sue you is there.
With Lodsys LLC letters, there isn't anything like that. Instead it is, essentially, pay up or get sued. Drop that in a major company's lap and see how well it works out. While Apple has managed to help out a little bit with their developers getting hit, the question is what can Google do to help out? Will they even help out? Florian Mueller from FOSS Patents sheds some light on the subject and it isn't a pretty picture either. Google (and Apple) may very well be contractually obligated to not be involved in any of this if it is to challenge Lodsys LLC patents.
"It's highly likely that Apple and Google are contractually precluded from challenging Lodsys's patents because such license agreements often come with clauses under which a licensee will lose a license once he participates in an effort to invalidate any of the related patents (in addition to possibly having to pay contractual penalties)" - Florin Mueller, FOSS Patent Blog [quote source]
Patent lawsuits are nothing new when it comes to mobile these days with just about every company suing one another over some feature. Generally, half of these patent claims are so generic it could be applied to many things which gives these companies, like Lodsys LLC, ammo to go after whomever they feel is infringing on their patents whether it is warranted or not. But these are major companies, not small indie development groups with 2-8 man teams who are just making games and apps.
The effects of this are already spreading through the development community. During the time of writing this article, OrangePixel already has stated that their plans for introducing in-game purchases for their hit game Meganoid are now being second guessed. We can't blame them either.
So where does this leave the little guys? It leaves them with three options:
At the time of this article being written, Cory Trese was contacted via phone by Lodsys LLC and was told that the package sent to him was an error and that accidents happen. We find this incredible considering the information that was contained in the package including screenshots of the game, ones specifically showing where the in-game purchase is located (to upgrade to Star Traders elite) and labeled as that is where the patent infringement is.
If you are curious about who Lodsys LLC is, their are a firm that deals entirely with patent holding. There are quite a few companies like this that, when a patent they hold is being infringed upon, they go after the person/company in question, however aggressively. Generally, you either have to buy a license, which usually isn't cheap, or get sued.
Scare tactics don't help your cause and with Lodsys LLC patent trolling on multiple platforms, they certainly are not making any friends. These letters go to the developers because there is little chance that they can fight it properly. Using a tool provided by a company that allows for in-app purchases, such as the Android SDK, is where the responsibility lies and with that said, these letters should be going to Google/Apple who have enabled this service for developers to use. They should not be landing in the laps of the developers who are using the tools provided to them by companies such as Google and Apple. While Lodsys LLC knows this, they also know they can go after the individual because they are using it and as such have chosen this route.
Half the reason we here at DroidGamers exist is to help indie developers (and the big guys too!) in any way we can such as reviewing their games, offering development news and resources, and just general exposure. Now we find ourselves looking into ways we can help people like the Trese brothers. Doing research on a game or app, sending out a package with detailed information regarding that game or app with the threat of a lawsuit is not an accident. We believe that, if anything, it was sent out prematurely.
As a media outlet, our job is to remain a neutral party and report on the news and be unbiased in reviews and other facets of what we do. There also comes a time where we need to take a stand and do what is right. We have always stressed that while we are a media outlet, we are also a community. It is one of the great things about the Android platform. The community is strong and will band together when something isn't right. It has happened in the past when dealing with rooting devices, locked bootloaders and so on and what brought about the changes that are happening regarding that? The Android community. This will be another instance where we feel the Android community will stand up and bring about change to help protect our developers.
We will be working on some way to protect our developers, whether it is some sort of fund to help fight this or perhaps ease the cost of the license for indie developers, if it comes to this level. If you have been hit with this, please contact us and let us know along with any details regarding your specific 'infringement' with Lodsys LLC. If you would like to be involved or have any ideas on how to help out, do not hesitate to share them with us either in the comments below or you can contact us directly at 702records [at] gmail [dot] com. We will do what we can, even if it is just bringing this to the attention of as many people as we can.
For more light reading about this subject, head over to FOSS Patent blog. Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comments and spread the word as well.