Indie iOS Devs Under Legal Fire For Offering In-App Purchases [Update]



The lead developer behind the popular Mac dock replacement DragThing and the fantastic iOS scientific calculator app pCalc is about to be sued for patent infringement because his software uses Apple’s own in-app purchasing mechanism. And he’s not alone.

Not only will the lawsuit delay the latest update to the free version of pCalc, pCalc Lite, it may just be the opening shot in an IP war, not just against Apple, but against the devs who dare to sell their software on the App Store.

Developer James Thomson of TLA Systems first broke the news that the latest version of PCalc would be delayed due to the threat of a lawsuit this morning on his Twitter feed.

“Just got hit by very worrying threat of patent infringement lawsuit for using in-app purchase in PCalc Lite. Legal docs arrived via fedex,” Thomson wrote.

“No idea what to do… They seem to be effectively claiming the rights to in-app purchase, but going after me, not Apple.”

Thomson is currently working with Apple as a first step to knowing how to address the issue, but it’s clear Thomson would rather not go to court, although will if he has to. “A decent IP lawyer will burn all the profits from PCalc in-app purchasing in one day,” Thomson notes.

Although Thomson does not want the name of the company who is threatening to sue him on record unless he pays up a hefty licensing fee until he speaks to Apple Legal, he makes a point of mentioning that the lawsuit does not appear to be app-specific.

“As far as I can tell this is not PCalc specific in any form,” Thomson wrote. “It doesn’t seem to be in any way app-specific.”

If true, it seems that someone is taking aim at small developers to try to extort them out of licensing fees for using Apple’s own in-app purchasing mechanism. That’s the nightmare scenario of many small devs, who don’t have the resources to fight off patent trolls.

Worse, it appears that Thomson might not be the only target. Already, other devs are reporting getting hit with lawsuit threats via Fed Ex.

Patrick McCarron, a developer for MobileAge, confirmed that he was also hit with a threatening patent lawsuit over his use of Apple’s in-app purchasing mechanism this morning on Twitter.

“Anyone else get a patent threat via FedEx for in-app purchase use in their iOS app? So far @jamesthomson and I got hit.”

I imagine we’ll hear more reports this morning of other devs getting similar letters. This seems to be a campaign.

With small developers under fire by a mysterious patent troll for using Apple’s in-app purchasing system, it seems likely that Apple itself will step in to smack down the offending company. Even so, this appears like it will be a stressful morning for many developers.

Are you a developer who was hit with a lawsuit threat this morning for using Apple’s in-app purchasing system? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or by email.

Update: While we still don’t know who is threatening to sue Thomson over IAP, another company is also suing indie iOS devs over their patents, this time in-app upgrade links. Is this a trend?

  • MightyMicro

    Another example of how the Patent system works to stifle innovation. Perhaps if patents were more like trademarks in IP law – use it actively or lose it.

  • catbusrider

    Seems like their goal right now is to intimidate small devs and discourage them from continuing to develop for the App Store…hope Cult of Mac (and others) follow the money trail, and see who is behind this.

  • JayeDee369

     It’s a small fish, if this were really a threat, they would be trying to sue Apple. They are flying under the radar hoping Apple won’t notice. Too bad they don’t pay attention to FB, Twitter and blogs. These dudes are gonna get burned big time for this stunt.

  • Ahmose

    This only strengthens my belief that the patent system is a mess. In theory of course one would wish to be able to lay claim to an original device or mechanism, in practice the smallest subset of an idea appears to be enough to bring out the legal teams of some questionable originators.

  • VugToo

    Wow these guys jsut are not making a lot of sense. Wow.

  • James

    Software patents are evil.

  • davidafenton

     the patent trolls will overplay their hand, and ultimately force their own demise

  • Ric Desan

    Tell Jobs and company that. They are one of the worst offenders for overly broad patent filings. I would love to see their little walled garden dictatorship implode like a black star.

  • steveray

    Apple needs to issue a blanket indemnity for app developers for this process ASAP and take on the trolls head on.  Problem solved. 

  • Jessica Darko

    If Apple didn’t file patents, they would have no way to protect themselves when trolls filed patents for Apple’s inventions.  That’s how the system works.  Whether we benefit overall by having these inventions disclosed by the patent process or not is up for debate.

    But there is no point in blaming companies for defending themselves from trolls by filing their own patents. 

    Until you get the constitution amended to remove patents, you’re making much ado about nothing. 

    Plus, if businesses aren’t able to just rip off other’s inventions– as everyone is ripping off Apple’s– then they will have to actually innovate.  Seems most of the anti-patent people want freedom to just copy Apple, and thus aren’t really pro-innovation to begin with.

  • Adam V

    Not if no one is willing to out them. Everyone seems to be worried about the legal ramifications of simply stating “I’m being sued by <x> over in-app purchases”, no matter that it should be a simple legal fact.</x>

  • catbusrider

    Only thing more hilarious on the Internets than the gushing fanboys? The virulent  haters.

  • James Lee

     What are you talking about, did you read the article above? @jamesthompson:twitter, the dev for pCalc has already spoken with Apple… and awaits information from Apple’s legal team.  How is that not considered “outting” them?  Btw, company behind the scheme in several other citings of this same lawsuit threat is Lodsys.

  • Steveintheukok

     Apple should purchase one of these apps from the developer and take these guys on, for the sake on every developer on their app store. Wouldn’t that be interesting to see how that panned out :-)

  • Guest

    Apple isn’t the company that is suing the pCalc dev. It’s someone else. 

  • Matthew Case

     So, anyone want to set a line on if Anonymous gets involved once the name of these stupid schmucks gets out?

  • Devon_Nullman

    As was stated, the Company is Lodsys, LLC – based in Marshall, TX (East Texas). In February they filed an infringement suit  against HP, Lenovo, Canon and many others. For details :

    Obvious Patent trolls

  • Taptanium

    In response to the patent threat, I came up with an idea that could soften the problem in general: – spread the word if you want this to become reality.

  • pedromorgan

     But the developer is in the UK and UK does not have “software” patents.

  • SomeGuyWhoHatesThePatentSystem

     That won’t work because you’d create a target for the patent trolls. If there is money to get, they will sue the hell out of it. It’s like being Bambi in a forrest full of werewolves.

    Patent trolls are to be fought at the root of the problem: patents / the patent system. There is no other way around. Any other way means to react to the trolls instead of acting.

  • David Molnar

     It would seem to me that they are only challenging the indie devs because indie devs are generally small operations unlike Apple which is huge with a huge legal department.  They know that they could not take on Apple.  That being said, it seems like it is Apple’s responsibility if the indie devs are using In App Purchase according to Apple’s guidelines.

  • Dweebguy

    It’s a smart move on the suing company’s end.  Sue small devs repeatedly.  Create a pattern that shows indeed you own the patent, you’ve defended the patent, and it’s a valid patent.  Then go after the big dog, aka Apple.

    Apple needs to squash this.  Now.

  • gena777

    From the language used in this patent enforcement action,it sounds like Lodsys just wants to settle and nab some licensing deals. Honestly, it probably would have been smarter for them to go after Apple and/or other deep pockets, if money’s all they want, instead of pursuing one-man development shops; after all, you can’t bleed a stone.http://