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Patent trolls chase app developers out of the U.S.

Jul 15, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Kootol Software Ltd. has sent “a notice” to Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, and several dozen other tech companies regarding a soon-to-be-awarded patent on a “core technology” apparently involving social networking. Meanwhile, legal attacks by “patent troll” Lodsys are causing small app developers to withdraw from the U.S. completely, according to a July 15 roundup by London's Guardian.

Mumbai-based Kootol issued a press release July 15, saying that "it has sent a notice to the several companies [sic] to bring to their attention about the core technology they are using for their different service and products, for which company has exclusive patent rights."

Licensing fees are being sought in respect of a patent application, 11/995343, titled "A Method and System for Communication, Advertising, Searching, Sharing and Dynamically Providing a Journal Feed."

According to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) records, Kootol first applied for the patent in January 2008. On March 30, 2011, it received a Notice of Allowance (viewable here) stating that "prosecution on the merits is closed" and suggesting that the patent will soon be granted.

Kootol says the patent-to-be "covers core messaging, publication and real time searching technology and effect [sic] whole products & services." In its release, the firm says it has already contacted several dozen companies regarding licensing and plans to contact more.

The current targets are as follows, listed in the order and format provided by Kootol:

"Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Apple, Bharti Airtel Ltd., Webaroo Technology (India) Pvt. Ltd., Amazon, AOL, Nokia, Bebo Inc., ExactTarget Inc., Ford Motor, Foursquare Inc., IBM, Linkedin, MySpace, NING Inc., Research In Motion Inc., Quora Inc., Inc., Seesmic Inc., Siemens Enterprise Communications Inc., Technology Co. Ltd., StatusNet Inc., PopBox Inc., Twitpic Inc., Peek Inc., The Iconfactory Inc., Ubermedia Inc., Yammer Inc., Facebook and Twitter."

As FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller points out, the company's press release is "full of linguistic errors." So too is the patent application itself: While vagueness in patent applications is often deliberate, this one seems to far exceed the usual level and makes one wonder what (or if) the PTO examiner was thinking.

Saying that it has also applied for a patent in Canada, India, and with the EPO (European Patent Office), Kootol says on its website that its invention "is the next generation communication and messaging social networking which helps the user to widen the user's current few connections based circle to many useful connections based extended circles."

An image (below) supplied by the company refers to a "HumanServiceNet Email (HSNEM) Messaging, Notification, and Communication" system, but Kootol elsewhere refers to what it has devised as a "Dynamic Communication & Real Time Search Engine."

An image of the "HumanServiceNet Email (HSNEM) Messaging, Notification, and Communication" system
(Click to enlarge)

Mueller comments, "At first sight, Kootol is not a particularly deep-pocketed troll," basing his opinion on the state of the company's grammar. "By contacting potential future infringers while the patent application is still being examined," he adds, "Kootol gives all of those organizations an opportunity to contact patent offices that (unlike the US Patent and Trademark Office) could still be persuaded to reject the application, such as the European Patent Office."

Still, according to Mueller, Kootol's "notice" will be frightening to smaller developers. "There are two companies on the list I'm particularly worried about," he adds:

  • Iconfactory, known for Twitterriffic and other mobile apps
  • StatusNet, which runs Identica, "a free and open source software equivalent to Twitter"

Small app developers say nuts to the U.S.

The combination of patent trolls, a litigious society, and ignorant Texan juries is proving too much for some small app developers. According to a July 15 posting in the Guardian Apps Blog, some have already withdrawn their products from the U.S. versions of Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market.

The troll that appears to have caused the most consternation — because it does have deep pockets — is Texas-based Lodsys, a patent holding company that began contacting Apple iOS developers in May, and later targeted Android devs as well. (According to Mueller, Lodsys also filed a Texas lawsuit against a bevy of defendants — including Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark, Lenovo, and others — in February.)

Mueller wrote in May that the patent in question is apparently U.S. No. 7,222,078 regarding "methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network." He adds, "The patent is unbelievably broad and should never have been granted in my opinion."

Lodsys reportedly asserts that the patent — which it purchased in 2004 from its inventor — covers software that includes in-app purchasing. It's asking that any developer cough up 0.575 percent of U.S. revenue gained through such mechanisms.

"0.575 percent of the in-app purchase market across all platforms would be a very nice figure to have indeed. And, of course, it's 0.575% for this patent today. Tomorrow it's another 1 percent from some other company, and so on," the Guardian quoted one developer as saying in May.

Now, some developers have reached the breaking point, according to Guardian writer Charles Arthur's Jul. 15 posting. For example, mobile developer Simon Maddox tweeted on July 13, "All my apps removed from US app stores (all platforms). 0.575% of total revenue put in a spare bank account. Screw you, Lodsys."

Shaun Austin, another app developer based in Cheltenham, England tweeted that "selling software in the US has already reached the non-viable tipping point," adding "this is what what will kill mobile computing."

Mueller pointed out in a July 3 posting that removing in-app purchasing from products, or even pulling them from sale, will still not be a solution for allegations of past infringement. And for U.S.-based developers, the patent troll problem seems inescapable.

Twitterific created Craig Hockenberry tweeted July 15, "I became an independent developer to control my own destiny. I no longer do." He added that insuring himself against IP infringement attacks would cost about $100,000 per year — with a $1 million deductible.

Jonathan Angel can be reached at [email protected] and followed at

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