The Null Device

Patent trolls drive app developers out of US market

This is why we can't have nice things: One of the fastest growing technological business sectors in the US is patent trolling; i.e., buying up portfolios of patents and using them as letters of marque to shake down those who actually make things. The US's broad patent laws, and the ability to shop for favourable jurisdictions (there's one in East Texas which has a habit of siding with the litigant and awarding generous damages) makes this possible.

Now, patent trolls have started shaking down independent mobile app developers (these don't have legal departments, and can be counted on to pay up even if, say, Apple or Google might end up prevailing in court). A company named Lodsys started threatening anyone who uses Apple's in-app purchase mechanism, and more recently, a Mumbai-based company started demanding money from anyone who connects to Twitter, claiming that they infringed on an as yet ungranted patent application covering a broad range of activities involving real-time communication. And now, non-US developers are withdrawing their apps from the US market, on the grounds that the risk of ruinous litigation makes it too dangerous:

Simon Maddox, a UK developer, has removed all his apps from US app stores on both iOS and Android for fear of being sued by Lodsys, a company which has already sued a number of iOS and Android developers which it says infringe its software patent.
But for US-based developers, the problems remain. Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory, developer of Twitterrific, remarked that "Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, they do and tweeted that "I became an independent developer to control my own destiny. I no longer do". Iconfactory is among those being targeted by Lodsys, but earlier this week was granted a 30-day extension to reply to Lodsys's claim.
The patent-troll problem does not apply in the EU, whose parliament narrowly avoided introducing US-style patent laws. It's not clear whether they apply in Australia (weren't US-style software patents, if not the direct applicability of US patents, introduced in the Howard-era free trade agreement?)

There are 1 comments on "Patent trolls drive app developers out of US market":

Posted by: Greg Thu Jul 21 13:00:55 2011

Patent trolling has gotten out of control. This case is pretty obviously not in the public interest nor even the interest of whoever invented these things in the first place.

I wonder if anything can be done, or it the usual thing whereby the perpetrator is making so much money that they can fight change with lawyers and media?

The Newscorp debacle suggests that people power can win under some circumstances at least.

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