May 13, 2011 at 9:47 am

IPhone Developers Sued Over In-App Purchases (Updated)

In-app purchases like this one are the subject of a patent infringement suit against independent app developers over the ability to sell users items within a mobile app.

Someone or something sent a package of documents to independent app developers on the morning of Friday the 13th accusing them of patent infringement. (Update: the company behind these letters is alleged to be Lodsys.)

Their alleged crime? Selling subscriptions, credits, and other digital items within apps for the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch using Apple’s official in-app purchase program.

Targets of the patent-infringement lawsuits say this entity is going after independent app developers, rather than deep-pocketed Apple.

“I can now check off being threatened by a patent troll off my bucket list,” tweeted MobileAge developer Patrick McCarron. “[The mystery entity is] going after small guys and not Apple. Letter came to company address with my name on it.”

“No idea what to do,” tweeted PCalc developer James Thomson of TLA Systems earlier this morning who first broke the news (via Cult of Mac). Now, developers who are targets of the suit wait for west-coast Apple to wake up, so that they can contact its legal department and figure out what to do.

“They seem to be effectively claiming the rights to in-app purchase, but going after me, not Apple… On Friday 13th, no less,” added Thomson.

We hope to have more on this story as rosy-fingered dawn appears on the west coast.

Update: MacRumors adds that the patent in question, “Methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network,” is a 2003 continuation of a 1992 patent application by Dan Abelow, who sold patents including this one to a company called Lodsys in 2004. Lodsys LLC specializes in licensing a variety of patents. Evolver.fm has contacted the company and hopes to add more to this story soon.

(Screenshot depicts in-app purchase within AudioVroom, which is not a target of the suit.)