This is certainly worth a meagre +1 in my book: patent troll Lodsys has actually taken the time to answer some of the concerns on the web regarding its legal threats to several small-time iOS developers. There’s some interesting stuff in there.
First, though, Lodsys mentions that they’ve been getting a lot of hate over the weekend – and rightfully so, of course. However, what isn’t rightfully so is the fact that they’re getting death threats. As much as I despise the current patent system and those that seek to abuse it, death threats are obviously not the answer. Remember, folks – it’s just 1s and 0s.
The first question they address is why Lodsys is going after individual iOS developers, instead of Apple itself. “The economic gains provided by the Lodsys inventions (increase in revenue through additional sales, or decrease in costs to service the customer) are being enjoyed by the business that provides the product or service that interacts with the user,” the company explains, “Since Lodsys patent rights are of value to that overall solution, it is only fair to get paid by the party that is accountable for the entire solution and which captures the value (rather than a technology supplier or a retailer).”
They certainly do have a point there, but you could say that Apple, and thus Google and Microsoft, enjoy profits from Lodsys’ “inventions” too by offering the functionality in their devices and software. This is the first truly interesting bit: Lodsys claims that Apple, as well as Google and Microsoft, have licensed the patents in question, and thus, are free to implement the technology.
However, they are not allowed to extend this license to 3rd parties. “The scope of their current licenses does NOT enable them to provide ‘pixie dust’ to bless another (3rd party) business applications,” Lodsys states. As for Apple et al. buying the right to license 3rd parties – Lodsys hasn’t been approached yet, and claims that it is probably better, from a financial standpoint, to strike deals with each individual application developer.
Lodsys also addresses the most logical complaint: why is this even a patent in the first place? “Through the magic of software and computational power, it’s possible to have steps automated or abstracted down to simple implementation. But underneath the surface (easy to implement), there are some details to understand,” Lodsys details, “Dan Abelow is an independent inventor who visualized/created metaphors, documented for the world to see (in exchange for exclusivity) and created value for doing so. This ideation, as expressed in the patent, enabled a building block for others to build on and create more value.”
This paragraph is interesting, as it has the Apple community on forums all riled up (along the lines of this article), claiming the patent in question is nonsense, obvious, useless, and so on. Of course, they conveniently forget that Apple is using very similar nonsensical software patents against Android vendors because it can’t actually compete on merit. If Lodsys is a patent troll – then so are Apple and Microsoft.
The patent troll definition usually includes the requirement of not actually selling any products that use the patents in question, but I’ve always found this an arbitrary requirement. Both Lodsys and Apple play by the exact same rules of the exact same patent system, yet it’s okay for Apple to troll, but not okay for Lodsys? What if Lodsys announced a phone tomorrow? Are they then suddenly a-okay?
It is specifically this hypocrisy that riles me up immensely. You can look at all the OSNews articles and comments I’ve written on this subject, and you’ll see that I am 100% consistent when it comes to software patents: they are wrong, evil, and must be abolished. I don’t care who uses them offensively – Apple, Microsoft, or the Red Cross – they’re just wrong.
Does it suck for the individual application developers? Of course it does, and I certainly feel for them. However, I have zero empathy for Apple, or possibly Microsoft and Google if they ever get hit, since they are the only ones who can break this cycle of destruction. The fact that they’re not clearly shows that they profit from the status quo – as such, suck it up.
The final interesting bit is that Lodsys also provides complete clarity into the costs of licensing their patents – evil or no, I welcome such openness. “In the case of an Application doing an in-application upgrade (and only this scenario), Lodsys is seeking 0.575% of US revenue over for the period of the notice letter to the expiration of the patent, plus applicable past usage,” they state, “So on an application that sells US$1m worth of sales in a year, the licensee would have an economic exposure of $5750 per year.”
The system is the way it is, and as much as I loathe Lodsys from the bottom of my heart, I commend them for their openness and clarity in this matter. If only the other patent trolls like Apple and Microsoft were as open as that.