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5/23/2011
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Apple Defends Developers From Patent Claim

The company's legal counsel insists developers are covered under Apple's patent license.

Apple on Monday tried to ward off a threat to its iOS developer ecosystem posed by Lodsys, a patent holding company.

Lodsys has sent letters to a handful of iOS and Android developers seeking payment for a license to distribute mobile apps with in-app payment support, technology that the company claims infringes on one of its patents. The payment demand is widely seen as a way to encourage Apple to pay more: Apple has already licensed Lodsys' patents but Lodsys claims the license only covers Apple's use of its technology and not uses made by Apple's developers.

Apple begs to differ. In a letter obtained by Macworld, Apple SVP and general counsel Bruce Sewell tells Mark Small, CEO of Lodsys, that Apple's license covers its developers.

"[T]he 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," the letter states. "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."

Sewell has requested that Lodsys withdraw its notice letters and "cease its false assertions" that iOS developers are infringing upon Lodsys patents. The developer community will now have to wait to see whether Lodsys decides to file any actual infringement claims.

Apple's decision to get involved is being cheered by developers, though it was inevitable: Apple's iOS Developer Program License Agreement forbids developers from entering into an agreement with a third party that "that affects Apple's rights or binds Apple in any way, without the prior written consent of Apple." Thus, developers could not license Lodsys' patent without undermining Apple's claim that it has the right to extend its Lodsys license to its developers.

Whatever happens, Apple's intervention may not be enough. Already one prominent developer, Craig Hockenberry, suggests small developers may be dissuaded from entering the market due to fear of unpredictable legal costs.

"We love developing products for iOS and the Mac, but this legal mess has already started killing that enthusiasm," Hockenberry laments in a blog post. "Apple has revolutionized the distribution of software via the App Store and that has been a great boon for smaller developers. It makes us furious that these greedy predators can put all of that at risk with patents."

Black Hat USA 2011 presents a unique opportunity for members of the security industry to gather and discuss the latest in cutting-edge research. It happens Aug. 3-4 in Las Vegas. Find out more and register.

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