back to article In-app payment patent scattergun fired at small devs

Mobile developers using in-app purchasing have been hit with letters requesting they hand over half a per cent of their US revenue as a licence for using the patented concept. The letters arrived by FedEx on Friday, addressed to individual developers of applications that allow the user to unlock additional functionality in …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yet another reason...

    ...to say that software patents are stupid.

    1. Steve X

      Not really

      Isn't that a bit like claiming that laws against theft are stupid, because they prevent you having a Mercedes like your neighbour?

      The problem here isn't the patents, but but the patent office inspectors who grant them without properly understanding the issues. And perhaps the law that allows patents to be sold, instead of just licensed.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
        FAIL

        you might be onto something, but ...

        ... you killed it by inviting comparison to theft.

        Of course I can have a Mercedes, like my neighbour, and there no law against it. There is no patented concept of "having a Mercedes", so anyone willing to acquire one by lawful means can have one.

        However try to patent a concept of "having a Merceds", see how it goes with patent office inspectors, and if you are granted one (which seems likely, as the things stand now) I wish best of luck extracting money from Mercedes owners.

  2. Andrew Moore

    Smart (ish)

    Do not tackle the huge company who can afford very expensive lawyers and who can therefore blow your crappy little patent-squat out of the water.

    Of course, the correct response would be to tell Lodsys that you do not know how many of your customers are US based.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Grenade

      re Smartish

      Trying to fob Lodsys off is totally the wrong thing to do.

      Firstly by doing so you admit liability. Job Done. They have you over a barrel. The Bailifs will be in next week to take eveything you own.

      Secondly, the IRS will be interested as well. There are sales tax (for US customers) and in for some devs, the illega lcollection of things like VAT (for European sales) and the dev not forwarding it to the relevant tax authorities in Europe. The EU has been giving the IRS a right earful over this. Finaly the IRS are getting the message.

      so you as a def must follow rule 1 for the accused.

      - Never admin anything. Full Stop.

      Lodsys might very well be breaking the law themselves. As there is every chance that these letters have moved out of Texas then Interstate Commerce Laws an the violation thereof start to get interesting.

      Grenade. for patent trolls everywhere to suck on,

      1. Andrew Moore

        re: Smart (ish)

        I wouldn't call it a 'fob off'- more along the lines of habeas corpus

        1. Robert E A Harvey

          I suggest

          s/ob/uck/

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sounds like

    Sound like a pretty standard business model from the dawn of time, "we'll sell you this cheap, and you keep discovering that theres' something it could do but can't because you need to pay for an extra bit" like telephone systems, or mainframes, or ryan air.

    1. Robert E A Harvey
      Stop

      sounds like bollox to me

      Can you really patent the idea of people paying when you sell them something?

      That'll be Tesco buggered then.

      1. Oninoshiko
        Terminator

        No,

        but that's also not what we are talking about.

        They are patenting NOT paying when you sell it to them, but later when want to use it. Kinda like how Qlogic sells FC switches. You buy an "8-port" switch which is the same as a 24 port, except it has 16 ports shut off. Then you buy a license for the others as you need them.

        In fairness though, I still fail to see how this is patentable.

        Patent law, also badgers.

  4. Kristian Walsh
    Pint

    They're up-front about why they don't go for Apple..

    They basically say here [ http://www.lodsys.com/1/post/2011/05/q-really-an-assumption-its-not-fair-to-go-after-small-application-vendors-or-websites-and-targeting-small-application-vendors-is-not-economically-attractive.html ] that large companies are more likely to resist paying, because they've a well-funded legal team, whereas the small guys can be bullied (my paraphrase).

    A friend of mine is one of those who got the letters, and fighting this claim would be a major threat to the future of his business. Independent developers do not have legal departments - any action has to be paid for, by the hour. On the other hand, paying the fee feels like being robbed, because this patent is so vague it could cover anything, and to me, it's definitely in the "obvious to someone skilled in the art" category.

    (The pint is for James)

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    WTF?

    "around 20 years ago"

    And it hasn't expired yet, WTF?

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      "around 20 years"

      I don't know where that came from. The filing date on this patent is 10th December 2003, although it is a continuance of other patents, the earliest being 07/926,333, filed in August 1992 (from the link in the article to the U.S. Patent office site).

      IANA(IP)L, but I would assume that it is the filing date of the actual patent, not any precursor patent applications that have been abandoned, that is important.

      Mind you, if there is a precursor patent application that was abandoned, and the technique is similar, does the abandoned application not count as a clear and unambiguous case of prior art!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Indeed

        Credit to the guy who spotted - 20 years ago - that we'd have *all* of these:

        - internet enabled smart phones affordable by Joe public

        - app stores for said devices

        - apps supporting in-app payments

        ...he was bloody clever.

        A 2003 date is far more plausible.

        Still reaks of patent-trolling though.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beyond disgusting

    We have plenty of examples of the parasitic behaviour of patent trolls (they make nothing themselves, just leech off other companies), but this is the worst example I have ever seen. Recognising that large companies have gone to great lengths to defend themselves against this kind of attack, they are gunning for the little guys who have no hope of defending themselves. If this is allowed to continue, it will gut the entire industry. These little companies are often responsible for significant technological leaps, but they aren't recognised because larger companies buy them up when they succeed. I think this battle may be too great for even the larger companies - it's time the government stepped in to exercise some pest control.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Megaphone

      I think the answer is simple

      Develop your products outside of the USA.

      I am truly astonished anything gets made there with patent trolling leeches like this around.

  7. Pahhh
    FAIL

    Grrrrr... leaches... but actually not a massive issue

    As far as I can see this could be worked around quite easily and isnt applicable to most of the apps anyway.

    The older patents have expired. Cant find any references to current in-payment systems.

    The patent referenced however is current. The claims though in the current patent however keep refering to "information about the user's perception of the commodity". I interpret that the App much have the ability to provide feedback to a central location. If the App doesnt provide this feature, then the claim doesnt hold. As each of the core claims have this in it, any further claims that are derivatives of that claim are hence irrelvent.

    The feedback on the Apple store is done via the store itself so this patent wouldnt cover that.

    Basically, any App that internally has a method of providing user feedback needs to remove this feature. Not a big deal.

    Of course it goes without saying , rant rant rant, leaches leaches, rant! Sooner the software patent system is destroyed the better.....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Headmaster

      @Leaches

      It's leeches, FFS.

  8. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Offshore umbrella co for dev's

    Set up the above as a front to exempt from the laughable patent trolls

    Or alternatively do similar onshore to provide a single point of legal representation and funds.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Worldwide patent ?

    Is it only developers from the US who've been targetted ? This patent would be thrown out in the UK. Anyone remember the patent BT held on hyperlinks (when it developed Prestel) - it was thrown out...

    1. Ru
      FAIL

      If you do business in the US...

      ...then you'd better abide by US rules, regardless of you or your company's whereabouts. If you RTFA again, you may note the magic phrase "developers...should cough up 0.575 per cent of their US revenue". The people filing this suit aren't idiots.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        RTFA

        I am a developer, I get paid £1000 to build an app. The businessman puts it up on iTunes and it's sold in the US. I'm not sure the article clearly states how revenue will be obtained from the developers in the situation.

        US patent law as applied to software is an ass; only idiots and scoundrels will try and defend it.

  10. Pseu Donyme

    Leaches!

    + also, the legal system is broken as it is expensive enough to make proper defence against this sort of thing (or most anything) too much of a risk for a small biz, never mind an individual.

  11. Richard 31
    Paris Hilton

    Shareware?

    Am i the only person who thinks the patent sounds like the Shareware model of software? I am sure there will be many examples of this that predate the patent. All you would have to do if find one that was a version that was distributed as a whole and then unlocked with a code.

    On another note, when are we bringing in the death penalty for patent trolls? I for one am fed up of hearing about this nonsense.

    1. Pete B
      FAIL

      Indeed.

      Winzip has been doing this since 1991, for starters

    2. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Too generic a patent

      Indeed. The whole concept of having a limited service and then paying to get extra is rather generic. Sky could be infringing this one as you get free to air and then pay Sky to receive more.

  12. g e

    Ah but...

    Surely Apple must now allow apps developers to let users link out to webpages to take payment outside the app, hence missing out on their 30% tithe or risk losing apps in the US, etc.

    I should think that possibilty might make them raise an eyebrow given how fanatical they are about owning the revenue chain.

    I'd issue an update to my app which made it a demo version and a bought version, separating the two then claim no US customers. Wouldn't burden of proof lie with the plaintiff?

    Or, just stuff the USA and do the rest-of-the-world instead

  13. Stephen Bungay

    Overly broad

    Lets see... the patent talks about local two way interactions between users of units of a commodity (a restraunt chef, and lets say a tomato?) and that these interactions change the user's perception of the commodity (the chef makes tomato sauce?).

    Really, this applies to almost every on-line gaming environment or anything where the interaction of people effects a perceived change.

    So all the banks should be shaking in their boots because you could pay your bills online and affect the change in your outstanding balances, improve your credit rating, etc. etc.

  14. johnnytruant

    I shall patent

    A mechanism for making money by acquiring an excessively broad patent on a very obvious idea or system, then suing people for infringing on my so-called intellectual property.

    Then I shall troll the patent trolls.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Money or knees?

      I shall patent the process of throwing bricks at patent trolls' knees.

      Race you.

  15. trafalgar
    Thumb Down

    B*st*rds!

    That is all.

  16. Shonko Kid
    Troll

    Surely Apple themselves are infringing

    Do they not provide (force use of) a mechanism to do in app purchasing through iTunes? or did I dream that story last year about them grabbing hold of that revenue stream?

    [insert ObPatentRant here]

    1. chr0m4t1c

      According to the trolls

      Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc. have licenses to use the patent, but they're not cascading licenses so the individual developers are also required to have licenses.

      What I'm not clear on is why they're only going after iOS devs, I'm pretty sure pretty much any commercial software house will have a piece of software that would be infringing, not just those for one mobile OS. Mind you, the risk in going after everyone will be that you try to gouge someone whose software pre-dates your patent by many years, which would immediately invalidate the claim and the patent.

  17. Tsu Dho Nimh

    AOL on-line did this!

    "applications that allow the user to unlock additional functionality in exchange for money"

    I remember being able to hand over credit card details and gain access to more functions, forums, and games on GEnie, Compuserve and AOL Online. That is prior art.

    AFAIR, you could even pay other people for their products on Compuserve.

  18. ratfox
    Coffee/keyboard

    These people have no shame

    We get earfuls from Republican politicians about the people who live off the welfare system... But how do they compare to these parasites? They might even be proud of their cleverness.

    Barf icon.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Simples

    Just include a question asking whether the user is a merkin. If they answer "yes", then surcharge them.

  20. NoneSuch Silver badge
    FAIL

    They are going to take the money that anyone pays them...

    ...and then go after all the other app users in a similar fashion.

    Generic patents like this are the biggest issue in the industry today. It only makes lawyers richer.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GPS block

    Maybe use the iPhone's GPS to work out if the user is in the US and disable paid upgrades with a suitably caustic message?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pshaw

    "With millions of mobile apps now being commercially distributed a lot more valid patents are going to be infringed"

    Where "valid" means shoved through a confused PTO exam without proper consideration given to "obvious to a skilled practitioner" or whether it is simply an algorithm in disguise. Come on people!

    Software patents are killing our children! Think of the children!!!!!

  23. asdf
    FAIL

    who'd thunk?

    Amazing that law makers (most of whom were lawyers) would set up the legal/patent system such that you are always innocent until broke as opposed to relying on the truth and fairness and all that malarkey. In no way is the legal system solely setup to provide expensive busy work for scum sucking lawyers as opposed to supposedly providing justice. How nice of one profession to put a tax on virtually every other profession.

  24. sam 16

    Does this describe payment?

    "In an exemplary system, information is received at a central location from different units of a commodity. The information is generated from two-way local interactions between users of the different units of the commodity and a user interface in the different units of the commodity. The interactions elicit from respective users their perceptions of the commodity. " USP-7,222,078

    To me this describes a peer to peer method of retrieving user feedback.

    Unless some of the words have unusual legal definitions?

    I don't see payment mentioned.

    Would this only apply to donation-ware where you get nothing for paying? Because if you have to pay to unlock new functionality then the user is paying for that, rather than to express an opinion.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "To me this describes a peer to peer method of retrieving user feedback."

      To me, it's a pile of impenetrable bollocks dressed up as English.

  25. Jon Smit
    WTF?

    How long does patent protection last

    I understood it was 20 years. In which case this band of robbers can be told to F Off.

  26. Adam T

    Anonymous

    Why can't these kids do something useful, like hack into and obfuscate all the patent records they can find.

    Sure there are hard copies and archives, but it sure set the system back decades and out a strain on resources required to pursue ridiculous cases like this.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Megaphone

    I have said it before

    and I will say it again......

    Patents should only be granted when a working prototype can be submitted along with documentation.

    software should come under copyright laws. So long as your code is original, it should not matter if i performs the same function. whoever wrote the best code wins the prize !!

    I am not a fan of apple, not by a long way, but if they want to get some brownie points then they should set there own pack of slavering lawyers after this troll on behalf of the devs targeted in this latest round of trolling. its these devs that have made the iPhone so successful by providing the software that run on the platform..

    patent trolls belong in the same prison wings as sex offenders as they are raping the software industry.

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  29. Schultz Silver badge

    Patent Wars™

    Patents are nowadays just a tool to hit other businesses with. It clearly helps if the opponent is smaller than you, so going after the small developers sounds like a smart choice to me!

    The quality of the patents doesn't really matter, if you got enough of them:

    Obvious, stupid, not new? But if you have 5000 of those, and a good legal department, you can still bury the competition (or their legal department).

    Innovative, clever, and new? Let's bet there is a technical workaround, or else the lawyers will have to find a legalistic, semantic, or procedural workaround instead.

    Get your patents now, and ... Fight!

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