If you haven't heard about Lodsys LLC by now then you are about to get familiar with them pretty quickly. Generally, known as a patent troll, Lodsys LLC has recently been trying to sue just about everyone under the sun it seems. Since it wasn't working to well against major corporations, the company is hitting the little guys.
Lodsys LLC's first flurry of patent infringement notices hit iOS developers a few months back and still has yet to be resolved. The good news though is that after a bunch of iOS developers receiving these packages in the mail from Lodsys LLC, Apple has stepped in to try and stop this hounding of developers, at least on iOS. So what better than to turn your attention to Android while dealing with Apple and their developers?
A few days ago the Trese Brothers, developers of the great RPG Star Traders, received one of these little packages in the mail. After reporting on it, Lodsys LLC contacted Cory Trese saying it was sent out in 'accident' even though there was detailed information regarding Star Traders including the area, highlight and labeled as the section that is infringing on one of their patents, included in the package. Yesterday we received an email from another Android developer, Noble Master Games, regarding their series of games called Age of Conquest.
While perhaps they might be able to have Apple help them on the iOS side, they are also on the Android Market which, as of the time of this writing, Google has yet to come out and announce their stance on this situation or if they will help developers like Apple is attempting to do.
Lodsys LLC has been busy trying to sue a lot of people for patent infringement, some of which to date have been thrown out in some courts by the judge questioning that validity of the patents. Some previous targets this year alone have been Best Buy, Motorola, HP, Canon, Adidas, Hewlett-Pacard, Hulu, Lenovo, Lexmark, and Samsung, just to name a few. There there are all the iOS developers currently targeted by this company.
Now it seems as though their sights have turned to Android to help possibly fund their on-going patent wars with... the entire world. Two recent developers doesn't mean it is a pattern, yet. We are certain there are others out there who have not come forward with word of receiving these patent infringement claims and chances are these two won't be the last either. So this begs a few questions that need to be asked:
Why does Lodsys not sue Google (or Apple) instead? They provide the tools for in-app purchases which is the subject of all the alleged patent infringement going on with developers?
Will Google step in like Apple is attempting to do?
What can you do if you have this arrive on your doorstep?
The first question is easy, so far Lodsys LLC hasn't had a lot of luck going up against big companies. While the responsibility should lie on the shoulders of Google and Apple for providing the tools these developers are using for in-app purchasing and subsequently getting the threat of being sued for doing so, Lodsys LLC would be hard pressed to go up against a company like Google and win. Instead they go after the developers because they are using the tools which, in essence, also makes them responsible for this supposed patent infringement due to it being a part of their product.
The second question is a bit tricky. While Apple has stepped in and finally said enough is enough and are heading after Lodsys LLC, the problem lies in the patent wording and contractual agreements. It would be in violation of any sort of agreement Google (or Apple) may have with Lodsys LLC, to file any sort of suit against Lodsys LLC that would invalidate the patent(s) in question. This could open up a new avenue for Lodsys LLC to actually go after Google or Apple. In the case with Apple, and probably Google, it would be worth it though to protect their developers, no matter how small they are as their market ecosystem depends on every developer.
This also doesn't mean that Google can't stand behind their developers in other ways without directly confronting Lodsys LLC. Apple is trying to intervene by saying that the license they have with Lodsys LLC covers their developers as well. Google could claim the same and do as Apple is doing, trying to throw their legal weight behind their developers. Google could also choose to start a fund, possibly through one of their other companies like Google Ventures, which could help developers with legal costs so they don't lose everything they have trying to fight this in court. Patent battles are costly when they go to court which is why you almost never hear about the little guy going to court, but instead conceding and removing their product or any other action to avoid further issue.
So what can you do if this lands on your doorstep? Stay calm and make a copy of everything that comes in the package for your own records. Even if they say they want it back and it was sent out as a mistake, it means you are still a potential target as they are checking out your product. There is a 30 day grace period (sometimes longer) in which to respond and hopefully by then Google will have announced their stance on this. That way you can take appropriate action based on this.
We would recommend contacting Google asap to let them know that you have received this as well. Also let us know immediately by emailing us at 702records [at] gmail [dot] com as we plan to continue our coverage on this and with every developer who gets hit. Even though we are a media outlet, we are gamers as well and part of the Android community like the rest of you. We need to protect our developers when something is not right, whether they are Gameloft, a two-man team like the Trese Brothers, or a single developer like Noble Master Games.
There is also a lot of good advice coming from our friend Florin Muller of the FOSS Patent Blog, who has been following this pretty much since the beginning with all the other companies. Definitely let us know if you get this infringement suit in the mail as we will be keeping a list of everyone who get's hit by it and hopefully finding a solution. We also encourage Google to get in touch with us regarding this and any statement they wish to make to game developers being hit with this.