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Friday, May 20, 2011, 05:30 pm PT (08:30 pm ET)

EFF says Apple should support iOS developers in Lodsys patent threats

Digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation has called on Apple to defend iOS developers from the threat of a patent lawsuit from Lodsys over in-app purchasing functionality in iOS apps.

EFF staff attorney Julie Samuels published a blog post on Friday expressing concern over "Apple's failure to defend" third-party iOS developers who received letters from Lodsys last week accusing them of infringing on a patent that covers in-app purchasing functionality. In the letters, Lodsys demanded that developers license the technology in question within 21 days or face possible legal action.

"We've been waiting expectantly for Apple to step up and protect the app developers accused of patent infringement solely for using a technology that Apple required they use in order to sell their apps in Apple's App Store," Samuels wrote.

After many accused the company of being a 'patent troll,' Lodsys defended its actions by noting that Apple had licensed its technology, adding that Apple's license doesn't cover third-party developers. Google and Microsoft have also licensed technology from the company.

Lodsys seeks 0.575 percent of U.S. revenue from the period of the notice letter to the expiration of the patent, plus applicable usage. Developers are accused of violating U.S. Patent No. 7222078, entitled "Methods and Systems for Gathering Information from Units of a Commodity Across a Network."

However, EFF argues that, since Apple both provides and requires the use of the functionality in iOS, it should defend the developers in question, many of whom "lack the resources" for a legal confrontation. According to Samuels, the problem is a "misallocation of burden" because developers should not be required to investigate whether technologies Apple provides infringe on preexisting patents.

"Instead, they would expect (with good reason) that Apple wouldn't provide technologies in its App Store that open its developers up to liability – and/or would at least agree to defend them when a troll like Lodsys comes along," Samuels wrote. "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."

Earlier this week, reports emerged that Apple is reportedly "actively investigating" Lodsys' claims, though it has not committed to defending the developers accused of infringement.

Lodsys