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Small Devs Attacked Over In-App Purchase Button Patent 229

Posted by Soulskill
from the under-the-bridge dept.
Thornburg writes with this excerpt from a story at MacRumors: "Yesterday, we received word from Rob Gloess of Computer LogicX ... that he had received legal documents threatening a patent lawsuit over the use of an 'upgrade' button in the lite version of his application linking users to the App Store where they could purchase the full version. 'Our app, Mix & Mash, has the common model of a limited free, lite, version and a full version that contains all the features. We were told that the button that users click on to upgrade the app, or rather link to the full version on the app store was in breach of US patent no 7222078. We couldn't believe it, the upgrade button!?!' The patent in question was filed in December 2003 as part of series of continuations on earlier patent applications dating back to 1992. The patent is credited to Dan Abelow, who sold his extensive portfolio of patents to holding firm Lodsys in 2004. Lodsys is indeed the company issuing the threats of a lawsuit regarding the patent in question."
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Small Devs Attacked Over In-App Purchase Button Patent

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  • by conner_bw (120497) * on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:40PM (#36120866) Homepage Journal

    That's why all my apps use: Upgrayedd. The two D's are for a double-dose of pipping infringement.

    Glad to see today's lawyers turning the movie Idiocracy into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Where's my Brawndo?

  • Blegh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:43PM (#36120896)

    Perhaps it's just best to do your technology outside of the USA and leave it to devour itself.

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:46PM (#36120914) Homepage Journal

    The claimant is in violation of my patent and owes me license fees.

    In the amount of (holds pinkie to side of mouth) one million dollars (evil laugh) ...

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:46PM (#36120918)
    Hey Microsoft, how's that Upgrade Anytime feature of Windows 7 looking right now? Like a big fat target? This case is to set a legal precident -- if you're smart, you'll help this guy now, before it becomes a multi-million dollar cock-up.
    • by gravis777 (123605)

      Um, pretty sure that, whoever this company is, they wouldn't be stupid enough to go up against Microsoft. Even companies who did have valid claims were usually driven to the brink of bankruptcy with court proceedings against Microsoft, just to have Microsoft pick them up cheap (cough - Stacker). Now, Microsoft could do the humanitarian thing and file a preliminary lawsuit against this company.

      Actually, as this is an App Store thing, and both Apple and Android marketplaces have this feature, I could imagine

  • I seriously doubt this type of an idiotic patent would fly in court. On the other side, given that this affects smaller developers who would rather not become entangled in lawsuits, this issue will likely not be handled for a while - at least not until larger companies become involved.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:50PM (#36120962)

      The problem is that the patent could be absolutely baseless, but it takes money to go to court over patent cases, especially when the plaintiff has the home field advantage in choosing the court to try the case in, what judge hears it (if you don't think a good patent lawyer knows which judges rotate to what cases, think again), and when it appears on the docket (it can always be stalled), most small developers will just settle.

      These are just tactics that do work almost always taken from the RIAA playbook. I'm amazed that lawyers have not been doing this sooner.

      • Exactly. If litigated, this case would probably wind up with a summary judgment of non-infringement after the claim construction hearing (that's where the court ascribes meaning to each term in the claim and thereby figures out what the actual scope of the claim is). But just getting to that point is extremely expensive, far more expensive than any small-time software developer could deal with.

        On the other hand, as long as these guys haven't been sued yet, they can file first for declaratory judgment, and

    • by Albanach (527650) on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:54PM (#36121004) Homepage

      at least not until larger companies become involved.

      According to this page [priorsmart.com] the company is suing HP, Lexmark, Samsung, Hulu, Trend Micro, Canon, Lenovo and others over the same patent (amongst others).

      I'd say big companies might just be involved already.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:54PM (#36121008)

      Or perhaps we ought to have a time out one patents, if they can't get their application through in a reasonable amount of time, then it gets denied. I find it hard to believe that something "invented" in 1992 really would take 12 years to go through the patent process without making some pretty ham fisted mistakes.

      It's almost as if they were wanting to give time for others to implement the patented idea in order to sue even more people than would otherwise be possible.

  • Appropriately enough, when you search for Lodsys in wikipedia. It says.... "Did you mean: lousy" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Search?search=lodsys&sourceid=Mozilla-search [wikipedia.org]
  • Oh, great... (Score:5, Informative)

    by mangu (126918) on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:50PM (#36120958)

    Take a look at their patent portfolio:

    - provide online help, customer support, and tutorials

    - conduct online subscription renewals

    - provide for online purchasing of consumable supplies
    survey users for their impressions of their products and services

    - assist customers to customize their products and services
    display interactive online advertisements

    - collect information on how users actually use their products and services

    - sell upgrades or complimentary products

    - maintain products by providing users notice of available updates and assisting in the installation of those updates.

    Why do they call things "inventions"? What about prior art? What about obviousness? Methinks there should be a law against ridiculous and/or frivolous patents.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      collect information on how users actually use their products and services

      Still, there might be an upside if companies can no longer spy on their users without paying license fees.

    • by prgrmr (568806)
      What about algorithms? Simply taking a bunch of components (that someone else invented) and rearranging the order in which they are used or interact isn't inventive, it's just mucking about with an algorithm.
      • What about algorithms? Simply taking a bunch of components (that someone else invented) and rearranging the order in which they are used or interact isn't inventive, it's just mucking about with an algorithm.

        Correct. Whether you call it a process, a method, or an algorithm, the idea is the same. If you patent a wheel with spokes, someone can't come along and say "I've invented a wheel with spokes that are installed counterclockwise." That doesn't fly... well at least everywhere other than software. It all seems funny to me. The whole software IP needs a big shakeup.

    • Congrats, you've listed the areas of their patent portfolio. What about their claims? Is anything original or innovative in their claims?
    • by danaris (525051) <danaris @ m ac.com> on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:12PM (#36121224) Homepage

      Apparently, the particular patent involved in this case was originally filed in 1992, and then got a long series of "continuations".

      Now, I haven't gone and looked at it, but I rather doubt that the patent filed in 1992, before what we know as the Internet existed, bore much resemblance to what is being claimed today...but that's the patent system for you. Anything that was created after the original filing date cannot count as prior art, so they can claim they thought of it all, even if they added various claims a decade later based on stuff they saw people already doing, by more "continuations."

      Dan Aris

      • by mcmonkey (96054)

        Now, I haven't gone and looked at it, but I rather doubt that the patent filed in 1992, before what we know as the Internet existed, bore much resemblance to what is being claimed today...

        You mean what you know of the Internet. And just because you didn't know about it, doesn't mean it didn't exist.

        • Oh please, the internet as all of us know it didn't exist back then. When this patent was filed spam hadn't even been invented yet.

        • by danaris (525051)

          Now, I haven't gone and looked at it, but I rather doubt that the patent filed in 1992, before what we know as the Internet existed, bore much resemblance to what is being claimed today...

          You mean what you know of the Internet. And just because you didn't know about it, doesn't mean it didn't exist.

          Yes, thank you, I'm not a total moron. That's why I said "the Internet as we know it," not simply "the Internet." And by any measure not come up with by a hopelessly literalist nitpicking jerk, what existed in 1992 was not much like the Internet as we know it today.

          Dan Aris

      • Apparently, the particular patent involved in this case was originally filed in 1992, and then got a long series of "continuations".

        Now, I haven't gone and looked at it, but I rather doubt that the patent filed in 1992, before what we know as the Internet existed, bore much resemblance to what is being claimed today...but that's the patent system for you. Anything that was created after the original filing date cannot count as prior art, so they can claim they thought of it all, even if they added various claims a decade later based on stuff they saw people already doing, by more "continuations."

        Aren't submarine patents illegal at the US Federal level, due to Symbol Technologies, Inc. et al. v. Lemelson Medical, Education & Research Foundation, LP (PDF [patenthawk.com])?

        • Not illegal, but a submarine patent is not regarded as enforceable once the invention has become widely adopted. In fact, if you want to forgo foreign patents, you can stealth patent with the USPTO to your hearts content. But that case, and others, did make clear one important caveat to the stealth patent. If one claim is invalidated, the entire patent becomes unactionable. This is usually the case, but sometimes not if reasonable exception that a claim was novel can be shown. However, with these kind

      • by CaptBubba (696284)

        The physical device disclosed is a fax machine, office phone, or cell phone that basically has an integrated survey system, then talks about aggregating that data to improve on future devices. Unfortunately the claims are so broad they seemingly encompass any sort of method of using user feedback collected via an electronic device in a product development cycle.

        The patent was issued in May 20th 2007, which because of the multi-month delay in issuing allowed patents means it was allowed by the Patent Office

      • The Internet existed in 1992. The Web, as we know it, didn't, and most discussion was on newsgroups. If I remember correctly, that was the period when there was a lot of discussion about commercial use of the Internet.

        • by danaris (525051)

          The Internet existed in 1992. The Web, as we know it, didn't, and most discussion was on newsgroups. If I remember correctly, that was the period when there was a lot of discussion about commercial use of the Internet.

          So, you support my point: the Internet, as we know it today, did not exist in 1992.

          Dan Aris

          • The Internet existed in 1992. The Web, as we know it, didn't, and most discussion was on newsgroups. If I remember correctly, that was the period when there was a lot of discussion about commercial use of the Internet.

            So, you support my point: the Internet, as we know it today, did not exist in 1992.

            Dan Aris

            The internet is NOT the web. The internet is just a geographically distributed network of computers (arguably using tcp/ip as it's primary protocol). It's the same now as it was then.

      • by mlts (1038732) * on Friday May 13, 2011 @04:15PM (#36122330)

        Around 1990-1991, Adobe had a CD stuffed chock full of Type 1 Acrobat fonts. You could buy the entire CD unlocked, or get the CD for free, and call Adobe to unlock what fonts one wanted at the time.

        From reading the patent, this seems very close to prior art, as it uses the word "system", and at the time, calling an 800 number and putting in an unlock code could be considered just as much a system as an in-app purchase under iOS.

    • Methinks there should be a law against ridiculous and/or frivolous patents.

      There is, right in the Constitution, but the patent office and courts ignore it -- just like most of the rest of the Constitution.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Take a look at their patent portfolio:

      - provide online help, customer support, and tutorials

      - conduct online subscription renewals

      - provide for online purchasing of consumable supplies
      survey users for their impressions of their products and services

      - assist customers to customize their products and services
      display interactive online advertisements

      - collect information on how users actually use their products and services

      - sell upgrades or complimentary products

      - maintain products by providing users notice of available updates and assisting in the installation of those updates.

      Why do they call things "inventions"? What about prior art? What about obviousness? Methinks there should be a law against ridiculous and/or frivolous patents.

      The whole USPTO needs a shakedown. Have you written to your Representative and Senator about it?

  • Major John Plaster (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DCFusor (1763438) on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:51PM (#36120978) Homepage
    had a solution to "insurgent tax collectors and parasites".

    Check "The Ultimate Sniper".

    Soap and ballot boxes didn't avail. The slimebags will never stop till there is a penalty. Either suck it up or do something, all the whining hasn't accomplished anything.
  • Libertarians (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Skapare (16644)

    This is why we need Libertarians to control Congress and the White House so they will get rid of government (especially Federal government) supporting this kind of theft, and promote a fully Free Enterprise system where anyone can invent whatever they want and not worry about the government stealing it. Ron Paul officially announced his candidacy for President today. Let's find out if he is a true Libertarian or just some two-faced Republican and get him to take a side.

    • Re:Libertarians (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wjousts (1529427) on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:01PM (#36121104)

      Yeah, 'cos I'm sure with no government getting in the way, the big boys will all agree to play nice. Yes siree, can't see any problem with that.

      Patents aren't the problem, stupid patents are the problem.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        The 'big boys' have a symbiotic relationship with big government, which gives them the laws that keep competitors out of the market, funnel huge government contracts their way and bail them out when they're going bankrupt.

        Eliminate big government and parasitic big business goes with it. Only actual useful big business would continue to exist.

        • by Noughmad (1044096)

          The 'big boys' have a symbiotic relationship with big government, which gives them the laws that keep competitors out of the market, funnel huge government contracts their way and bail them out when they're going bankrupt.

          Eliminate big government and parasitic big business goes with it. Only actual useful big business would continue to exist.

          I think you misspelt "corrupt" twice. It's not the size of the governemnt that matters, its who controls it.

        • by Skapare (16644)

          We only see these patent suits because it's something the government enforces. Patents are a form of taking property away from those who own it. Each inventor owns what he invents. But the government allows the first who filed for a patent to take the property away from other inventors. So the 2nd and latter inventors lose.

          Of course, there always has been the risk that someone will see what is done and steal that, claiming to have invented it. The patent system was intended to encourage invention that

          • by wjousts (1529427)

            Patents are a form of taking property away from those who own it. Each inventor owns what he invents. But the government allows the first who filed for a patent to take the property away from other inventors. So the 2nd and latter inventors lose.

            In the US a patent goes to whoever is first to invent, in most of the rest of the world it is first to file.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Uhm, no. That's absurd.

          When the government was completely "hands-off" with corporations, we ended up with Standard Oil, who owned more than 30 cities. (yes, cities)

          The cities were wholly-owned. They owned the land, the buildings, they ran the stores, they forced workers to live in these homes and buy from these stores. They employed private "police" forces, who turned out to be thugs, but since they owned the police, nobody could do anything. One time the workers went on strike because of the terrible t

      • by Draek (916851)

        Paraphrasing Linus: given enough educated minds, all patents are obvious.

        So no, the problem *is* that all patents are stupid.

      • Yeah, 'cos I'm sure with no government getting in the way, the big boys will all agree to play nice. Yes siree, can't see any problem with that.

        Patents aren't the problem, stupid patents are the problem.

        No, patents are the problem. Let's look at copyright for just a sec: To infringe I have to willfully duplicate all or most of an existing work covered by copyright. Now, back to patents: To infringe I can be clever in a steel box fully detached from the rest of the world and accidentally create something that's mostly similar to something some other sucker got the the patent office first with.

        Know why I'm always re-inventing the wheel? Because it's damn simple to do, and blatantly obvious -- Know why I

      • by unity100 (970058)
        patents ARE the problem. your mishap is in that you are forgetting that 'stupid' can always be redefined.
      • Patents aren't the problem, stupid patents are the problem.

        I agree. I also think sterilization is a bad idea. Microbes aren't the problem, bad microbes are the problem.

        Seriously though, saying that "bad patents are the problem" is just silly. The problem is that we've created an excellent legal tool for large corporations to pummel their competitors with.

        Here's the issue: we can either make patents really easy to obtain (such that any patient soul with a couple bucks for the paperwork can get one) or we can make the process as difficult and careful as possible s

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721)

      And then when the poor rise up and kill all the wealthy who have used those principles to keep the money, deprive them of health care and anything approaching a just, decent society, you can ponder that using Libertarian principles to get rid of bad patent law is the equivalent of chopping off every man's penis to eliminate rape.

      • by Skapare (16644)

        Oh, I'm personally not a Libertarian at all. There are a few things I do believe in that are very libertarian in leaning. The patent system overhaul I suggest, is one of those things that is, or should be, both libertarian and progressive supported. But I do like to call Libertarians to the carpet for being untrue to libertarianism. Another example is government issued marriage licenses. A true libertarian would get the government out of that business. Why should the government, at any level, be the g

        • That Ron Paul would likely work towards good things. It's the bad things that worry the hell out of sensible people. The one thing Ron Paul is not is a pragmatist. He's a fanatic.

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        20 years after that massive "redistribution" of wealth, you would find that many people were rich or poor again.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Under statism men oppress men. Under Libertarianism it's the other way around.

      Libertarianism in its modern form has been floating around for a while now. When it serves the elites (Free Trade) it becomes law. When it serves the common man (ending the war on drugs that turns cities into combat zones and saddles young men with felony convictions) Libertarian ideals are swept under the rug.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Oh aren't you precious. I almost hope you get what you want, just so I can witness your disillusionment.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      I have an easier set of questions. Does he want government to control who marries who? What I can ingest? What women can do with their own bodies?

      I am sure he will spout states rights on several. Which is just another way of him saying that he thinks the states will do his dirty work for him.

    • by hey! (33014)

      I'm not sure there is an identifiable, unambiguously "libertarian" position on patents.

      Some people believe in the right to "own" an idea or expression in the same way one owns a piece of land or a physical object. For libertarians in that camp, the artificial institution of "intellectual property" merely institutionalizes theft by artificially restricting the owner's natural rights over his property (e.g. expiring exclusive rights to patents, or allowing fair use in copyright).

      Other people don't think that

    • See the last section of this "Ask Slashdot" entry from 2008, for the Ron Paul campain: http://interviews.slashdot.org/story/08/02/05/1511225/Ron-Paul-Campaign-Answers-Slashdot-Reader-Questions [slashdot.org]

    • Sheesh. I don't know if I'd consider Ron Paul to be a Libertarian anymore ever since he said outlawing abortion is a "Libertarian principle". Yea...in bizzaro world maybe.

      If I can't trust Ron Paul to be Libertarian in social matters, how can I trust him to be a Libertarian at all? He sounds like a plain-old Republican to me. I might as well be voting for Huckabee.
    • This is why we need Libertarians to control Congress and the White House so they will get rid of government (especially Federal government) supporting this kind of theft, and promote a fully Free Enterprise system where anyone can invent whatever they want and not worry about the government stealing it.

      Big-L Libertarians -- as in the Libertarian Party -- want to shrink or eliminate entirely the regulatory functions of government, not the wealth-concentrating ones. Their 2008 VP candidate was a patent troll [techliberation.com]

  • How is this different than any other 'lite' version of an application that has an Upgrade menu option (which is in reality a button)? I'm also interested in this concept of a continuation patent? Are you really allowed to just add stuff onto existing patents?
    • by wagnerrp (1305589)

      Consider this chain... You start out with a patent for shareware software. You distribute a 'light' version of the software for cheap or free, and once you get to a certain level, or want to access a certain feature, it prints out a phone number or address to the DOS terminal to mail order a more complete version. A few years later, the internet, browsers, and graphical OSs become common. In place of the terminal printout, you hook into your OS's defined browser, and open a webpage from which you can ord

  • Bye guys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Friday May 13, 2011 @01:58PM (#36121074)

    You're a small company, they're a large company. They have powerful lawyers, you don't.

    They can pretty much sue you for anything, no matter how stupid and baseless it is.

    Sorry, this is the stupid way software patents are.

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      At times, there are organizations (the EFF come to mind, although they seem to cover governemnt-related cases more) that have the money and lawyers to not only win the case, but win legal fees for frivolous suits. If you can hire a lawyer that can give you a good reason why you *should* win, it may be worth finding the support to ensure you can stick to the fight long enough.

      Then again, it might not, too. These things should be evaluated on a case-by-base basis.

    • by Skapare (16644)

      And the Republicans are all for lawsuit overhaul ... at least for lawsuits against Republicans.

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      Anyone can sue anyone for any reason, no matter how stupid and baseless it is, and unless extremely grievous, there are generally no repercussions. There won't be a change in the system until the plaintiff's attorneys have some real liability on the case to protect the defendant. Until that happens, it will be cheaper in the short term to settle out of court than to win a court case, and there will be lawyers looking to make a quick buck that are all too willing to facilitate.
      • by Haedrian (1676506)

        And do you think the large companies want that? They can use it to crush the little guy. Won't ever happen.

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)

          You would be surprised. Look at all the injury lawsuits where someone trips at a construction site. On major jobs, the foreman is allowed to dole out fairly large sums of money, to settle claims on-the-spot. It's worth a few thousand dollars, no questions asked, rather than court and lawyer fees to fight it off. Look at areas of the country where entire fields of medical practice cannot be found, because bogus malpractice suits have driven up insurance to the point you can't possibly run a solvent busin

  • Problem solved?

    Unless you want to fight it in court.

    • I wonder if a "Click here to get an enhanced experience" button would avoid the patent.
      The descriptions above of other patents from this douche are as descriptive as "Pissing in a toilet bowl" and I am sure nobody would patent that (or would they?).

    • That doesn't solve "damages" for past use. They're not interested in eliminating competition--the original worthless/misguided purpose of patents. They're interested in fleecing anyone that happens over the bridge they're lying in wait under.
  • for deity's sake... it's about time all software patents were declared null and void and this entire stupidity stopped...

    Stop trying to invalidate patents on technicalities and go to the heart of the matter that they are not patentable in the first place.

    • The problem isn't simply "software" patents. It's patents in general. Software patents were segregated out mostly as a legal strategy but the same fouling of innovation applies to the physical world as well.
      • This is true. But voiding all software patents would be a great first step, eliminating an entire category of nonsense.

  • I think that governments should be lobbied to enact patent reform to require patent holders to actively use and promote the patented technology within some timeframe of the patent being granted in order to continue to have patent protection. My reasoning is this: If a patent is so intrinsically valuable to you that it was worth filing the patent in the first place, then you must capitalize on it to be able to protect it. If you can't get funding or sell licenses to get a product to market within a reason

  • The comments on these topics always suffer from Slashdot Oversimplification Syndrome.

    Definitely a riot to read. Thanks guys! Keep up the... work.

  • The referenced patent seems to be entirely focused on systems that allow users of a product to generate feedback to owners of the product, such that the owners can improve and enhance the product or even determine new directions for future products. Here's a clip from the description, which seems to show the general direction of each of the individual claims:

    For products (and information systems) that contain this Module, customers may continuously inform vendors (or developers) of their current and emerging needs. The vendors of those products may have the best opportunity to respond swiftly to a much clearer view of customer problems, product problems and market opportunities than they have today. The inventor believes that within a generation it will be normal for many products and services to include this type of Module, so that customers (in aggregate, the market) comes to play a larger role in directing and controlling the commercial development of many products and services.

    Then later:

    Simply put, this invention helps vendors and customers by transforming their learning cycle: It compresses the time and steps between setting business objectives, creating effective products and services, and improving them continuously. It also alters their roles: Customers become partners in the improvement process along with vendors and distributors.

    Reading through the claims with my layman's understanding... I don't see any of them that even suggests a click-to-upgrade scheme might be

    • by qubezz (520511)

      Again, it's all about reporting back on the user's experience and perception - nothing to do with upgrade. In this light, I find it extremely odd that they would even attempt to file suit for violation of this patent.

      Windows error reporting [flickr.com], anyone. Of course everything like this is obvious to someone trained in the art, unless you are a bunch of East Texas hicks on a jury.

  • Intent makes all the difference. Regardless, the intent of Lodsys is obvious. Should its exploitation of patents in such a context be allowed at all?

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Friday May 13, 2011 @04:11PM (#36122278)

    We are fortunate that patents are a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. Imagine if the wheel, books, or fire had been patented.

  • Dan Abelow filed the patent and seems to own and operate these patent troll corporations:
    http://abelow.com/ [abelow.com]

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