Unfortunately, patent trolls are not a new phenomenon. But, lately we’ve seen a disturbing new trend: patent trolls targeting app developers. Platforms such as iOS and Android allow small software developers the ability to widely distribute their work, which – for obvious reasons – is good for both developers and consumers. Just as these developers were finding new audiences, the patent trolls decided they wanted a piece of the action and started sending cease-and-desist letters demanding license fees, and in some instances even suing. Often, these developers cannot afford the time and money it takes to fight the trolls, leaving them with a stark choice: pay up or go out of business. It should come as no surprise then to hear reports that developers are pulling their apps from the U.S. app stores.
We’ve written before about Lodsys (here and here), a troll accusing app developers of patent infringement based on in-app purchasing functionality. Lodsys continues to send out cease-and-desist letters even as litigation surrounding its patents is pending all over the country. (The Court has not yet ruled on Apple’s motion to intervene in the case Lodsys brought against iOS app developers.)
Lodsys is not the only troll with the dubious distinction of suing app developers. A company called MacroSolve sued app developers for using technology apparently as basic as distributing electronic forms. And more recently, a company called Kootol announced plans to sue 30 companies – some large ones, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as app developers like Iconfactory. (Of note, Kootol’s “patent” is currently only an application, so we won’t see any lawsuits until it matures into a full-blown patent, which should happen in short order.)
The patent system is intended to promote innovation, but it seems pretty clear to us that here it’s doing just the opposite. While we are disappointed that the proposed patent reform legislation does nothing to curb this problem, we will continue to monitor the situation and provide resources to as many developers as we can. To help us do this, we request that attorneys licensed to practice in the United States who are willing to and interested in advising targets of trolls join EFF’s Cooperating Attorneys’ List.
If interested, please email Rebecca Reagan at firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information or the contact information for your firm, and the states in which you are licensed to practice law.