For those just tuning in, a patent holding company called Lodsys recently made waves in the Apple app dev community by claiming that it owns patents covering in-app purchasing technology enabled by Apple’s API’s. Lodsys sent threat letters to numerous parties and actually sued a handful of them. Apple, for its part, claims that all Apple developers are authorized to used the relevant technology because of a licensing deal that Apple made with a predecessor to Lodsys’s patent rights. Lodsys seems to disagree with Apple on this point (instead claiming that only Apple itself may use the technology), and has apparently sent them a letter explaining exactly why. However, that letter remains confidential even though Lodsys invited Apple to publish it if they want to.
Today brings news of Apple’s first formal legal maneuver in the matter. Namely, in connection with Lodsys’s pending lawsuits against several app developers, Apple has filed a Motion to Intervene, which is the manner in which a third party to a lawsuit can interject themselves if their rights are affected by the outcome of a case. It was widely though that Apple would be forced to make such a a move, or a similar one, and that Lodsys was apparently tempting Apple to do so by picking on small developers who couldn’t reasonably defend themselves without Apple’s assistance. For additional background on the case, I recommend Nilay Patel’s overview from a couple of weeks ago.
The most recent move by Apple sheds slightly more light on the substance of the dispute at hand. In particular, Apple filed with the court a copy of the license that it has to the patents at issue. However, that agreement is confidential so it is not available to the public. In its motion, Apple said about the agreement that:
“The License expressly permits Apple to offer and otherwise make available to its Developers products and services that embody the inventions contained in the patents in suit.”
It is clear, at this point, that Apple and Lodsys really seem to differ on whether the license in question does in fact authorize Apple to distribute and permit developers to use its software technology embodying the relevant patents. Of course, we’ll all be in the dark on who is blowing smoke until such time as the relevant license, or at least the disputed provisions, become public, which may not happen before there is a settlement one way or the other. Alas, it is quite possible that this will all end before we really know who’s got the best evidence.