iOS App Developers Threatened with In-app Purchase Lawsuit [UPDATED]

iOS app developers look to be the latest targets of companies hunting for patent licensing revenue streams related to Apple technology. PCalc developer James Thomson and Shanghai Mahjong developer Patrick McCarron both received letters from a company demanding they pay patentent licensing fees or face legal action, and other independent developers may be facing similar letters.

Thomson tweetApp developers facing patent lawsuits

The company, which neither Mr. Thomson or Mr. McCarron named, claimed that their use of Apple’s in-app purchase system violates a patent it owns. The in-app purchasing system Apple offers lets developers give customers a way to pay for extra features or other products in their apps instead of forcing them to complete the transactions on a separate Web site.

“Just got hit by very worrying threat of patent infringement lawsuit for using in-app purchase in PCalc Lite. Legal docs arrived via fedex,” Mr. Thomson said on Twitter.

Mr. McCarron offered up a similar sentiment via Twitter by saying, “Anyone else get a patent threat via FedEx for in-app purchase use in their iOS app? So far @jamesthomson and I got hit.”

Based on the legal threat, Mr. Thomson decided against releasing the latest update for PCalc today.

It appears that the threatening letter targets developers and isn’t focusing on individual apps.

The letters offer a new twist on what is commonly referred to as “patent trolling,” because the patent holder is targeting independent developers instead of Apple for the alleged infringement.

While both men are keeping quiet on which company is threatening them, it appears other developers are sharing a little more information. Rob Gloss of Mix & Mash developer Computer LogiX told MacRumors that he received a similar letter claiming he was infringing on patent 7222078, according to MacRumors.

A quick check of the patent showed it belongs to a patent holding company called Lodsys and describes “methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network.” The patent dates back to December 2003, and was purchased by Lodsys in 2004.

This isn’t the first time Lodsys has gone after companies for allegedly violating the patent, although earlier legal action involved larger companies. In February 2011, the company filed a lawsuit alleging Brother, Canon, HP, Hulu, Lenovo, Lexmark, Motorola, Novell, Samsung, and Trend Micro all used the patented technology without permission, according to Actionable Intelligence.

In that lawsuit, Lodsys claimed the company’s servers that handle the data collection part of transactions violate the patent, along with Samsung cell phones and the Samsung Media Hub.

Both Mr. Thomson and Mr. McCarron have been in contact with Apple.

Apple has not yet commented on the situation.

[This article has been updated with additional information from MacRumors and Actionable Intelligence.]