Monday, 30 May 2011

Lodsys: Has a non-practising entity finally bitten off too much to chew?

Earlier this month Lodsys, LLC approached a number of developers of applications for Apple products, inviting them to fork out for licences to use four US business methods patents (details here, on Lodsys’s own website). Apple has taken up the cudgels on apps developers’ behalf, responding to Lodsys with a stern letter. If Lodsys thought they could get away with going after small companies and (perhaps) individuals, they should have received a clear message that they were mistaken. If as they assert they are merely going after those who benefit most directly from using the patented “technology”, drawing a very strained analogy with the fact that it’s the owner of an hotel who is responsible for the service provided to guests, not the owner of the land on which the hotel is built, nor the supplier of the nails that hold the hotel together. I may have become a bit confused – read it for yourself here.

Apple’s contention is that the developers are all operating within the terms of a licence taken by Apple. Much, no doubt, will turn on the terms of the licence – and it won’t be entirely clear-cut, because knowing who’s doing what with patents like this is never easy. The argument put forward by Apple (which you can read in their letter to Lodsys, which is reproduced on The Guardian’s technology blog here and no doubt can be found in many other locations on the Internet) can be summarised, I think, as any act that needs to be licensed is being done by Apple, not the developers.

Chatting last week to an apps developer, at fellow-Stackridge fan Mike Southon's excellent if noisy Beermat Monday networking event, I came to appreciate the concern this is causing in the industry. Is it something app developers here need to worry about? Yes and no – mostly yes. The market for apps is clearly global, so while there are no UK patents (or European Patents GB or elsewhere) to worry about infringing, a developer from Silicon Roundabout could still find itself getting sued in where else but the Eastern District of Texas.

I don’t know what it proves about The Guardian – perhaps that it’s too liberal for its own good, perhaps that it’s fallible – but a few postings up from the one about Lodsys is a plea for US-style patent protection for software and business methods. I read it with mounting incredulity, as did many others whose comments are appended to it – does anyone believe this? Evidently at least one patent attorney does, confirming people’s worst preconceptions about lawyers. Well, to my mind granting a patent if the software gives rise to a novel technical effect is the right approach – although it’s only a start, and that broad statement of principle still risks allowing what are nothing more than straight software or business methods patents.

No comments:


blogger templates | Make Money Online