As an indie app developer, one of my biggest concerns is the possibility of getting sued for, basically, existing.
You may or may not have heard of Patent Trolls. These are companies who exist only to sue people. They make nothing themselves, but instead purchase patents that have been written as broadly as possible, then use those patents to threaten companies using technology that has little or nothing to with the original patent. Because many small companies don’t access to legal council, they often simply sign the agreement, which not only often demands money having nothing to do with the already iffy claim to infringement, but also legally prevents the company from discussing even the existence of the agreement, much less it’s details. One excellent expose on the crisis came from NPR.
For instance, it’s very common to make a free version of a game with a few levels, then charge the user for a better version once they know they’ve found something they like. LodSys is suing not only many indie developers, but also the creators of Angry Birds and Electronic Arts, claiming that the ability to upgrade from a free to a for-pay version of an app is their intellectual property, and anyone using this technology owes them royalties.
Both Google and Apple have *already* licensed these technologies from Lodsys, and are providing them as part of their approved (and, in some cases, *mandatory*) system for upgrading apps, but Lodsys claims that individual developers *still* have to license these technologies.
And while this particular scary example is probably the best known at the moment, it points out a much bigger problem with indie development, which is that it’s possible get sued at any time for basically anything, particularly if one is suddenly making some money. United States Patent Law is deeply broken, and rather than encouraging innovation, is stifling it instead.
So what’s an indie developer to do? I’m asking myself that question as I move further toward a day when I can actually pay my bills from my app income. You can bet that indie developers are pissed at being extorted by companies like Lodsys, and now an organization called The Appsterdam Legal Defense Fund, devoted to helping indie developers fight companies like Lodsys. I signed up with them today, and will directing my money at them going forward. I can’t think of a better use of my charity. In fact, once I’m up and running, I might donate an amount to them equivalent to what LodSys would demand from me. 🙂 The ALDF has several videos describing the situation with Lodsys, and things you can do about it. They also claim to provide low and no-cost legal counsel and advise to their members. I’ll be learning more about what they do and don’t do, and reporting it here going forward.
Indie Developers Unite!