The Macalope Daily: Patently trolling?

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Welcome to the first edition of the Macalope Daily! The Macalope has long felt hemmed in by having just the single weekly column. A hot topic on Monday is often stale by Wednesday, moldy by Friday, and inedible by Saturday. (Fine. Ungulates have different standards about what’s edible. Just let it go.) While some of these items may get rolled into the Saturday column, Macworld Insiders will get the Macalope’s sarcastic take on the news every weekday, when it’s bakery-fresh! See, you’re lucky and good-looking.

This edition is a perfect example of what the Macalope’s talking about. The big news that broke on Friday didn’t appear until after the Macalope had already wrapped up his Saturday column: Several independent app developers received legal threats from a company called Lodsys, which claimed the use of in-app purchasing violated its patents.

Over at Edible Apple, Josh Rosenthall tied together some circumstantial evidence to suggest that ex-Microsofty and patent troll extraordinaire Nathan Myhrvold could be behind Lodsys. After leaving Microsoft, Myhrvold clearly asked himself the eternal existential question, “Where do I go down from here?” Then one day he saw a pamphlet entitled “Patent Trolling and You” in the unemployment office—and the rest is history.

The Macalope read much of the main patent in question (there’s an hour of his life he won’t get back) and to his admittedly untrained and very, very bored eye it appears to describe a system for manufacturers to get feedback from users on the usability of embedded software. If that doesn’t sound like “in-app purchases” to you, well, you’re not alone. One of the diagrams is even of a fax machine. Which, when you think about it, is charmingly naive. As if fax machine, printer and copy machine manufacturers cared about usability!

Oh, you fax-machine-manufacturer apologists and fanboys can deny it, but the evidence is in offices across the globe. They just. Don’t. Care. Which is probably how this patent ended up in the hands of a firm specializing in patent trolling.

Of course, the Macalope’s not a patent attorney, nor does he play one on TV (not since his comedy sketch show on CourtTV got canceled), and there are other patents involved. But the only connection between the patent and in-app purchases that he could see was “A user communicates something back to a vendor from inside the software.” This is why the Macalope was surprised to read this morning that Lodsys—who is very put-out by people’s rudeness towards them—says Apple has already licensed its patent.

Lodsys’s contention is that while Apple licensed the patent, the same isn’t true for each individual developer and pay me, pay me, pay me. What they’re asking for doesn’t seem exorbitant on a per-app basis (if a developer makes $1,000, they’d pay Lodsys $5.75), but it would sure add up fast across the App Store.

Assuming Apple did license the patent in question, the Macalope would be surprised to hear that the company hadn’t taken this into consideration. Their legal staff has been around the block a few times, you know.

At any rate, it seems that shares of “enjoyable legal smack-down” are low this morning. After spending an hour reading that patent, you can forgive the Macalope for hoping for a late afternoon rally.

[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]

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