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.

Two ways to deal with drug offenders

Whatever your stance on U.S. drug policy, I think few people could disagree that courts deal with infractions very differently depending on who is breaking the law, as two recent news items painfully illustrate.

Way #1:  Throwing the Book at Them

This American Life has a podcast this week telling

the story of Lindsey Dills, who forges two checks on her parents’ checking account when she’s 17, one for $40 and one for $60, and ends up in drug court for five and a half years, including 14 months behind bars, and then she serves another five years after that—six months of it in [Georgia’s] Arrendale State Prison, the other four and a half on probation.

Listening to the hour-long program, I thought I had mistakenly swapped the podcast out for a Dickens and/or Kafka audiobook.

Ms. Dills is, needless to say, not particularly wealthy or well-connected…

Way #2:  Making Them Sing

…unlike the subject of today’s Daily Mail article:

Singer-songwriter and marijuana enthusiast Willie Nelson could have faced a lengthy jail term after he was arrested for possession in November.

But perhaps the Texas prosecutor has been smoking some of Willie’s special cigarettes, because he has agreed to let the 77-year-old legend avoid prison but only if he gives the court a song.

Hudspeth County Attorney Kit Bramblett said: ‘I’m gonna let him plead, pay a small fine and he’s gotta sing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” with his guitar right there in the courtroom.’

In addition to the injustice implicit in the wildly divergent outcome faced by Mr. Nelson, I have the same question for the prosecutor and judge as a commenter over at the ABA Journal website:

Isn’t there some personal benefit in the “command performance”?  Charges should be settled for the state, not the personal benefit of court officers.

Updated 3/30/2011: The Associated Press is now reporting that Willie won’t have to sing after all.  The prosecutor was just “joking”.