My #unlodsys bug was closed as a duplicate. What does that mean?
Right now #unlodsys bugs are being closed as duplicates almost as soon as they are created. Although the response you get is pre-formed, rest assured that a real person sent it. It doesn’t take long to spot another in a series of duplicates, and the fact the bugs are being closed so soon means someone has noticed the trend.
From this we can extrapolate the bug is blinking red in Radar (Apple’s bug tracker) right now. That’s exactly what we want. The more times a bug is duplicated, the more powerful it becomes, because it shows the will of the people. This campaign is the same as calling your representative in government. The contents of the individual call is not as important as the number of calls they have received about the issue.
Aren’t we wasting the time of some poor engineer?
Absolutely not. Bug reports are not scrubbed (i.e., handled) by engineers, they are scrubbed by specialists. Only then are they forwarded to the appropriate people. We are not taking them away from their usual duties. Scrubbing these bugs is their job.
Bombarding these folks with duplicate bug reports is not an abuse of the system, it is exactly how the system is designed to work. Apple wants us to communicate with them via Radar. Doing it this way is, in a word, respectful, whereas flooding the email box of some poor evangelist or Steve Jobs himself would not be.
What do engineering bug reports have to do with legal?
It is a misconception that Radar belongs to engineering. Radar and its kin are used throughout the company for tracking all sorts of issues. Moreover, big events in Radar trigger a response beyond Radar. You can bet that when Radar blows up with something, Steve knows about it pretty quickly.
There’s also the very simple fact that our making a coordinated effort makes our grievances known all over the internet. The press have already noticed the #unlodsys boycott and reported on it, which increases the pressure on Apple.
Aren’t boycotts a waste of time?
Often, yes, because the number of people participating in the boycott is tiny compared to the total number of customers. In this case, however, there really aren’t that many productive developers. Action by a few hundred people means nothing relative to, say, the customer base of Proctor and Gamble, but in terms of the developer base of Apple, it has a huge impact.
Isn’t the Lodsys patent patently absurd?
It looks that way, but even absurd, easily invalidated patents cost more to defend against than most developers can afford. That’s the whole point of #unlodsys. We can’t even afford to have this conversation, so we’d like someone else who can, and who has skin in the game, to jump in.
What about other claims from Lodsys and other patent trolls?
There is a lot going on in the realm of patent trolling lately, and a lot more to come if we don’t act in a loud and coordinated fashion to stop it. Like good engineers, we have to focus our efforts on one API on one platform with one parasite. We picked the one that is a clear-cut case for Apple’s intervention and that actually impacts their revenue.
Isn’t this unjustified panic?
Regardless of whether it is justified, panic is useless. We need to funnel whatever feelings we have into action. Filing bugs and not using an API that could get us sued is a pretty reasonable course of action. We’re not filing a class action lawsuit or picketing 1 Infinite Loop. We’re just letting Apple, and those who watch Apple, know what we need and why.
Won’t Apple fix this anyway?
Maybe, and maybe our boycott will have no effect whatsoever. On the other hand, we might make them move faster, or with more severity. Moreover the online conversation this has generated will make its way into Apple. It might educate them. It might move them. It might even make them help us. The one thing we can be sure of is that the most effective way to have no effect is to do nothing.
What if Apple doesn’t respond?
Then that will be a wonderful opportunity for Google.
While the in-app purchase API boycott and bugroast get rolling under the hashtag #unlodsys, the next big question is what, exactly, do we want from Apple?
The short answer is, we want the same thing Jules wanted from Marcellus Wallace during the Wolf scene in Pulp Fiction.
1. We want immediate reassurance.
An open letter to our developers:
Chill out. We’re on it.
2. We want Apple to destroy Lodsys by any means necessary.
Nothing keeps copycats at bay like heads mounted on pikes.
3. We want Apple to make us glad we work on their platform.
Platform providers should treat patent trolls who prey on their developers the way America treats terrorists who prey on her citizens.
If I could offer Apple a bit of advice learned from the airline industry, you should have a patent attorney on the doorstep of every developer affected by Lodsys and other patent trolls. It would be a relatively cheap way to set yourself apart from the other providers, who would love to entice your developers.
Yesterday I proposed an ecosystem-wide boycott on the use of Apple’s in-app purchase API in response to the ongoing Lodsys problem. This has generated a lot of feedback that I’d like to address.
If you currently have an app on the App Store that uses in-app purchase, you don’t have a choice. While removing in-app purchase from your app may not protect you from lawsuits, leaving it in at this point is tantamount to asking to be sued.
It’s like file sharing. When you hear people are getting sued, you stop doing it. You might still get sued, but if you continue file sharing your odds get worse every day. Stopping the risky behavior is simply the only thing that makes sense.
Aside from a logical act of self-protection, we are not cutting out in-app purchase to defeat Lodsys. We are cutting out in-app purchase to send a message to Apple that they need to get into this fight, or we are not going to be able to keep powering their revenue engine.
How should you handle this in your app? At this point, it seems advisable to continue to support restoring in-app purchases, but attempting to purchase new content should pull up an alert that says something like:
We are unable to support in-app purchase at this time due to the threat of lawsuit. more information
Regardless of whether you need to update your app to remove the offending API, or would simply like to let Apple know that this will have a chilling effect on your ability to continue working on their platform, you should file a bug. This will duplicate bug #9459079, the body of which follows:
Use of the system-provided In-App Purchase API opens developers to patent infringement lawsuits from patent troll Lodsys, who are demanding licensing fees above and beyond Apple’s 30% cut.
Steps to Reproduce:
1. Ship an app that uses the In-App Purchase API
2. Wait to be contacted by Lodsys
3a. Pay Lodsys, and every patent troll that inevitably follows them
3b. Be sued out of existence
Apple steps in using their nearly infinite financial and legal resources to protect their developer ecosystem, removing the threat of Lodsys, and ultimately pushing for reform of our broken patent system.
Apple remains quiet, while their developer community privately and publicly freaks out.
Dozens of developers, including James Thomson and Apple Design Award winner Iconfactory, have already been targeted by Lodsys.
Now that we are all up to speed on this whole Lodsys situation, what do we do? The reality is, there is nothing we as indie developers can do.
If we pay, we are collaborators in our own demise, as the precedent this sets will open a floodgate of parasites extorting licensing fees for their alleged patents, knowing we are too weak and too scared to do anything but pay.
If we don’t pay, we’ll still be out of business, just quicker, as we are sued out of existence.
Apple, on the other hand, has infinite money, skilled legal council, and skin in the game. They have benefited mightily from their developer ecosystem, and the approach of Lodsys and their ilk should trigger the same response farmers have when they find parasites on their cash crop.
I have every faith that Apple will ultimately stand up and fix this. We can’t assume they will do this out of altruism. There’s just no other response that makes sense for them from a business standpoint. Unfortunately for us, they also have infinite time, and are typically conservative in their response.
For the real people fighting this new war, like James Thomson and Iconfactory, they run the very real risk of becoming casualties. We need to light a fire under Apple that makes sure they do the inevitable as quickly as possible, before it’s too late for our colleagues and friends.
Faced with an unbeatable enemy, Gandhi called a boycott. Armed with nothing but force of will, Martin Luther King Jr called a boycott. If great men like these were developing apps, they would say the same thing: boycott.
What I propose is this: for every API that is infected by parasites, we cut off the branch and boycott the API. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to be able to use an API without being sued, the same way it’s not unreasonable to expect to use an API without getting spam.
If having 3,000 updates hit the app store “removing in app purchase to avoid being sued” doesn’t get Apple to move, the revenue loss surely will.
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.