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EFF: Apple Should Stand Up and Defend Its Developers (eff.org)
127 points by grellas on May 20, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

I'm having a complete inability to reconcile the reporting on this subject with the patent in question [1].

All the reporting mentions this as a problem for In-App Purchases, but the patent in question seems to only deal with soliciting user feedback. Is there some required rating component involved in In-App purchasing that runs afoul of this patent? [2]

Because I'm missing the part where developers necessarily infringe on this patent as a part of using the App Store or In-App Purchasing in general.

[1] 7,222,078

[2] I've admittedly only purchased in-app a few times, and I can't recall ever seeing it. And I get notably annoyed when apps throw the pop up asking me to rate their app as-is. So forcing me through a rating widget, I'd think, would stick out.

I'm as lost as you. From the patent text:

"One of the core purposes of the invention is illustrated in FIG. 15. This is the ability to learn interactively and iteratively from the users of products and information systems anywhere in the world while they are in use—without having to travel to their sites (or without having to bring them to a testing laboratory). Since this is a two-way link, it also offers the ability to respond meaningfully to customers and users based on worldwide, local, organizational or individual needs regardless of where they are located."


"As envisioned by this invention, as customers and vendor employees interact to produce continuous improvement, the marketplace may be e-engineered into an interactive development environment (i.e., research and development environment, or R&D environment) with a national or global scope."

It seems that they've patented a survey. I don't get it. And, anyway, a "purchase" button sure isn't what they had in mind when they wrote the patent! (BTW, "e-engineered" is verbatim. Maybe it's a term I don't know, but I took it as a typo of "re-engineered.")

The thing that matters in a patent are the claims.

The descriptive text is in large part there only to satisfy the requirement of 'enablement', meaning, if you patent an idea, you have to disclose enough information so that someone reasonably skilled in the art could duplicate your invention. Trying to parse the descriptive text of a patent isn't particularly useful.

The claims in this patent are straightforward:

* Handheld devices with keypads

* Remote servers

* Interactions for setting up a sale of an item

* Interactions triggered by repeated use of the system

The descriptive text is in large part there only to satisfy the requirement of 'enablement', meaning, if you patent an idea, you have to disclose enough information so that someone reasonably skilled in the art could duplicate your invention. Trying to parse the descriptive text of a patent isn't particularly useful.

Thanks for clarifying there.

Wow- so using any handheld device with a keypad that interacts with a server in such a way that allow a sale is patented.

I've been struggling to wrap my head around this issue, so I tried to recall if we've ever been in this situation before where it suddenly became possible for the "ordinary" person to make cool new technology applications. It occurred to me that perhaps there was. Several decades ago consumer electronic components became quite cheap and powerful (I could buy integrated circuits as a kid and build stuff, for example).

So, I wondered, are circuits patentable? Maybe that would be analogous to what's going on today. Turns out, they are patentable.

So it seems that changing the law here would require singling out the software industry as being particularly "special" in some respects, and maybe in a way that it really isn't. This thought pulls back my knee-jerk "ban the software patents" reaction quite a bit.

However, the industry itself recognizes that software is somehow special. For the first time to my knowledge builders of stuff that isn't toxic or somehow else dangerous can declare it illegal for you to take it apart and see how it works. So maybe software is somehow special and a special case can be made concerning software patents-- like having them expire sooner. (I have a knee-jerk reaction against the "no hacking" terms, also.)

Here's an article by Pamela Jones on reverse engineering software if anybody's interested: http://lwn.net/Articles/134642/

Careful; I deliberately oversimplified the claims, because there was some doubt that this patent directly applied to in-app purchasing. All I'm trying to demonstrate is that the applicability of the patent is straightforward. It takes time and expertise to parse and evaluate patent claims; it's probably more specific than "keypad plus purchasing".

Got it. Thanks.

And all of those invalidate that patent because they are friggen obvious uses of tech.

The 'obviousness' test is (unfortunately) more about rejecting trivial patents; not rejecting things that are clear logical extensions of what has come before.

Something that blew my mind the first time I worked with IP lawyers (I've been induced to file a bunch of patents): you can patent extensions of other people's ideas; for instance, even though someone else came up with tiered FEC multicast file transfer protocols, you can patent the application of that idea to some problem, like, tiered FEC file transfer of mailing list messages.

I've never filed a patent like that ("Nice idea you got there! Shame if I came up with a bunch of other ideas based on it!"), but I guess it's obvious when you think about it.

IIRC, there was some mention of using this mechanism as a way to make sales to consumers in the patent. I agree, it seems more like this is over the "Rate me" dialog popup boxes than the IAP, but the suits seem to have hit developers that use IAP more than anyhting else.

Putting aside all discussion on the validity of software patents, Apple really has an obligation to step in and muscle Lodsys to the ground. And I expect that is exactly what they will do.

I doubt anyone at Apple thought it would be a good idea to push tools onto people that would then get those people sued. So most likely, Steve is in the process of releasing the Kraken, telling it to head straight for Lodsys HQ.

By Monday, Lodsys should be a smoldering heap, sunk to the bottom of the ocean by the all-powerful leviathan.

And there shall be much rejoicing.

As an aside, I started to write a thoughtful comment but this stuff is so inane that it really just requires Apple to apply some ass-kicking-fu and make this crap go away.

EFF aside, Apple genuinely has a strong interest in sort this out soon.

Putting FUD on the table for app development is a bad thing for their platform and profits.

I expect Apple to do something smart to aid their developers in this case... I only hope it doesn't amount to paying off the patent troll.

That would be a worst-case for other platforms and their developers, as this would competition blocker.

Anybody know if Lodsys is targeting and Android, WebOS or Windows 7 developers?

Clickable link to the patent http://www.google.com/patents?id=nA2AAAAAEBAJ&zoom=4&...

My guess (and I could be completely wrong) is that Apple is working behind the scenes in some way to take care of this.

Apple? Doing something for its developers?


I'm sure I'm wrong (and will be summarily slapped down), but I can't help but think that it is more than just possible that Apple would expose small/indie developers like this just to cull the number of apps in their store.

That just doesn't make any sense. Apple doesn't need any third-party henchmen to do this job. They have their own app-store guidelines that give them unilateral decision making capacity as to what does, and does not, make it in to their App Store.


I can't imagine it's possible to successfully sue someone for damages that were caused by a court decision.

Except for, you know, the presumably small devs that Apple fucked over in the process.

Oh, absolutely. It'd be awful if they did this. But it'd be fun to watch Lodsys try to fend off Apple's legal team.

I suspect if that really is a possible strategy (meaning Apple's legal team is so powerful that they would clearly beat the shit out of Lodsys's team), then threatening Lodsys with such a move would be a better one. That way, Lodsys would be scared to push too hard on the top app developers, and would back off before anyone gets hurt.

Now, of course, if they actually think they can take on Apple it's a different story. And I don't know enough about how the law works here to know if they could take them on or not.

Your definition of "fun" does not match mine.

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