Although the scope in which Apple can operate is limited to patent exhaustion and licensing, Thursday's ruling allows the Cupertino, Calif., company some space to aid software makers being sued by the non-practicing entity Lodsys, reports FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller.
In May 2011, Lodsys leveled a number of legal threats against iOS developers http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/05/16/lodsys_explains_its_legal_threats_apple_is_licensed_ios_developers_are_not.html">claiming
http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/05/16/lodsys_explains_its_legal_threats_apple_is_licensed_ios_developers_are_not.html">claimingpatent infringement because their respective programs took advantage of a certain in-app purchasing patent held by the so-called patent troll. Apple responded by sending a formal letter to Lodsys asking the company to halt any future proceedings, but the request fell on deaf ears and a suit was filed on May 31.
According to its website, Lodsys Group, LLC is a Marshall, Texas-based patent holdings company that apparently owns only four U.S. patents by inventor Dan Abelow. The company purchased the patent rights it is using in this specific case from Intellectual Ventures, another non-practicing entity that originally bought the rights from Abelow.
In what is called patent exhaustion, Apple argues that because it licensed the patent as operator of the App Store, its developers are likewise licensed by extension. To that effect, the iPhone maker filed a motion to intervene in June 2011, later defending the move against Lodsys' objections.
It was expected that Apple would be granted intervention rights quickly, though the ruling never came and the motion sat in court for months. Further confounding the situation was the resignation of the case's presiding judge.
While Apple was waiting for a decision, Lodsys went forward with additional suits, extending its case to include large app makers like Angry Birds creator Rovio.
With Thursday's ruling, Apple will finally be able to put its considerable legal weight behind the developers involved in the suit, with Judge Rodney Gilstrap granting the company "permissive intervention" or one that is under the court's purview.
From the summary submitted to public record:
"SEALED MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER - Apple has satisfied each of the four requirements for intervention as a matter of right under Rule 24(a)(2). The Court finds that permissive intervention is also appropriate under Rule 24(b). To avoid any potential prejudice to Lodsys rights under the License Agreement such intervention shall be and is hereby limited to the issues of license and patent exhaustion. Apples Motion to Intervene is GRANTED-IN-PART to the extent and as specified herein. Motions terminated:  MOTION to Intervene filed by Apple, Inc.. Signed by Judge Rodney Gilstrap on 4/12/12. (ehs, ) Modified on 4/12/2012 (ch, )."
It remains to be seen what Apple will invest in the case, but some smaller developers have already settled out of court presumably due to the high financial costs associated with a prolonged court battle.