The threat to iOS

Ars Technica has a post about Apple’s latest response to a lawsuit filed by Lodsys, a reputed patent troll, against of Apple’s app developers:

Lodsys began threatening both iOS and Android developers with lawsuits in May if the developers didn’t pay licensing fees for its claimed in-app-purchasing-related patents. Many independent developers lack the financial and legal resources to litigate a patent infringement claim, so a number of iOS developers began a campaign to get Apple to help, threatening a boycott of in-app purchasing if only to avoid such legal threats.

Lodsys acquired its four patents from former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures patent holding company. It turns out that Apple already has a license to those patents by virtue of an investment deal in Intellectual Ventures. That deal gave Apple (among other companies, including Google) a license to some 30,000 or so patents under Intellectual Ventures’ control.

(In case you missed it, this is the same Intellectual Ventures that was the subject of a recent This American Life episode, which has sparked—to put it mildly—quite a discussion around the blogosphere.)

If Apple isn’t successful in defending its developers here, the whole iOS app ecosystem may be in jeopardy.  As innovative as Apple has been in creating and updating iOS devices—iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad—over the past few years, a lot of their success is due to non-Apple creativity.  There’s no way that Steve Jobs’ company could have created 425,000 apps over the past four years, and those apps are a (the?) main selling point for consumers purchasing iOS.

If Apple’s licenses with Lodsys/Intellectual Ventures don’t cover its developers and those developers can get sued one by one, two things will probable happen.  First, the largest/financially strongest developers will (like Apple itself) reluctantly pay off the patent trolls, surviving by ultimately passing the costs onto consumers.  Second, small developers will go out of business.

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