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EFF Urges Apple to Support Developers Against Lodsys Patent Threat

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today issued a statement calling on Apple to defend App Store developers against patent lawsuit threats from Lodsys, a company seeking licenses from developers for their use of in app purchasing and upgrade links.

The EFF lays out its case that because the developers are taking advantage of Apple’s developer tools to deploy the functionality being cited in the dispute, Apple is in the best position to defend against the threat.

This is a problem that lawyers call a misallocation of burden. The law generally works to ensure that the party in the best position to address an issue bears the responsibility of handling that issue. In the copyright context, for example, the default assumption is that the copyright owners are best positioned to identify potential infringement. This is because, among other reasons, copyright owners know what content they own and which of their works have been licensed. Here, absent protection from Apple, developers hoping to avoid a legal dispute must investigate each of the technologies that Apple provides to make sure none of them is patent-infringing. For many small developers, this requirement, combined with a 30 percent fee to Apple, is an unacceptable cost.

Apple’s developer agreement, however, precludes developers from turning to Apple for assistance in legal disputes, meaning the company could leave developers to fend for themselves.

Many observers have, however, argued that it is in Apple’s best interest to step into the situation, shouldering the cost and effort in order to protect its valuable ecosystem of independent App Store developers. If developers are reluctant to embrace the App Store for fear of being targeted by lawsuits driven by their use of Apple technology, the platform could suffer significantly.

By putting the burden on those least able to shoulder it, both Apple and Lodys are harming not just developers but also the consumers who will see fewer apps and less innovation. We hope that going forward companies like Apple will do what’s right and stand up for their developers and help teach the patent trolls a lesson.

Meanwhile, one week has passed since the first notices from Lodsys arrived in developers’ hands, leaving two weeks until the firm’s deadline for licensing passes and at which point it has threatened to file suits against the developers. Apple has yet to address the issue publicly, but the company is famous for waiting to speak until it has a firm grasp of the facts at hand rather than trying to address public relations crises as quickly as possible.