Fort Sumter

By Mike / On / In Technology

As you’ve probably heard, a company called Lodsys claims that use of Apple’s in-app purchasing framework violates their patent. Normally a company like this, commonly known as a patent troll, would go after Apple and everyone who has copied Apple and the world would barely take notice. This time, they’ve decided to go after third-party developers.

To people outside our industry, this might seem like a minor strategy shift, but from an industry perspective, this changes everything. This software patent nonsense has largely been a game played between the giants in our industry. The mom and pop software shop has, for the most part, been left alone.

Now Lodsys claims that, while Apple and the other giants have licensed their technology, those licenses do not apply to third-party developers. Therefore, they claim people who use the in-app purchasing framework owe them additional licensing fees.

The same patent system that has completely failed to protect the iPhone from being copied wholesale is being used to extort its developers. This precedent not only affects patent law, but all of software development.

If using a platform-provided API is not free from the odious weight of software patents, then software development as a cottage industry is no longer practicable. Make no mistake, Lodsys demonstrates that software patents threaten our very way of life.

In an economy where jobs are all people can talk about, software patents have created jobs for no one but lawyers and parasites. On the other hand, unless Apple acts quickly, software patents are about to put some honest craftsmen out of work.

You might think that sounds dramatic. A small cut is not going to kill a thriving business, true, but this is the opening salvo to all-out war. The parasites have taken notice of the goldrush, and would like nothing more than the precedent that allows every modern-day mobster with a patent lawyer on retainer to start cracking nuts.

It is time to abandon the failed experiment of patenting software as fundamentally wrongheaded. Ultimately software is math. Patenting math makes as much sense as patenting rhetorical devices in English. It is as if someone has patented the idea of using a screwdriver. It doesn’t just affect what we create, but our very ability to work.

Beware, my friends, and take serious heed. Unless and until Lodsys and everything they represent are brought to an immediate and permanent end, stormy clouds of a very dark future lie just over the horizon for our entire industry.