Lodsys, the patent licensing company which threatened to sue several App Store developers over supposed patent infringements has followed through on that warning, initiating seven legal cases against developers despite receiving a very public cease and desist letter from Apple last month.
The issue stem from two patents relating to apps which allow the user to purchase an upgrade or full program internally from a demo or partial app. Those two patents are entirely valid, and owned by Lodsys, but last month apple backed developers by stating that the licensing agreement it has with Lodsys over the patents covers all of its customers and business partners too.
Lodsys disputes this claim and, on Tuesday, launched seven legal cases in East Texas against five US developers and two from overseas. At least one Android title is also covered in the litigation, but so far Google have not become publicly involved.
"On May 22nd, Apple's chief lawyer Bruce Sewell unequivocally announced that Apple's license to the Lodsys patents gave Apple's 3rd party developers complete and 'indisputable' freedom to use the covered inventions without paying royalties or fearing lawsuits," reads a post on the Lodsys blog.
"There was a very positive reaction in the press and blogs. Apple appeared to give the Developer community what they wanted. Unfortunately for Developers, Apple's claim of infallibility has no discernible basis in law or fact.
"The letter was very surprising as Apple and Lodsys were in confidential discussions and there was clearly disagreement on the interpretation of the license terms of Apple's agreement. Before, during and after these interactions, Lodsys has carefully considered this issue and consulted several legal experts to consider Apple's claims," continues the post.
"We stand firm and restate our previous position that it is the 3rd party Developers that are responsible for the infringement of Lodsys' patents and they are responsible for securing the rights for their applications. Developers relying on Apple's letter do so to their own detriment and are strongly urged to review Apple's own developer agreements to determine the true extent of Apple's responsibilities to them.
"In a private communication, simultaneous to this posting, Lodsys has sent a detailed legal position on the license interpretation issue, in writing to Apple that has been previously only verbally communicated. Apple has our permission to publish that letter, in its entirety, should developers wish to review our dispute and evaluate the risks with their own counsel. While we have nothing to hide, we cannot unilaterally publish the letter because it refers to information that was obtained with an obligation of confidentiality to Apple and we do not have their permission to do so."
The details of the companies covered by the cases were not made public by either party, but legal blog Foss Patents obtained and published the names of the following seven studios: Combay, Inc. of Roanoke, Texas; Iconfactory, Inc. of Greensboro, North Carolina; Illusion Labs AB of Malmö, Sweden; Shovelmate of Las Vegas, Nevada; Quickoffice, Inc. of Plano, Texas; Richard Shinderman of Brooklyn, New York and Wulven Games of Hanoi, Vietnam.
Lodsys had previously demanded 0.575 per cent of the US revenues of all affected companies, which may well eventually extend beyond those already named. The company is now suing for damages and reparations, counting any continued use of unlicensed patents after its initial complaint as willful infringement - an offence which could triple the cost of settlement.
Patent litigation can be a tremendously expensive business in the US and the seven developers will no doubt be hoping that Apple's previous solidarity translates into legal backing or compensation - a position which Lodsys likely shares given the relative ease of suing one large, rich company over several smaller ones.
As a sign of how convinced it is of the strength of its case, Lodsys has promised to pay an extra $1000 to any company which it sues over the issue and loses against.