17 July 2011

Patent lawsuits hitting small developers hard

The Guardian covers the latest on patent trolls going after iOS developers, providing more evidence of the destruction wrought by troll patents on the software industry.

Shaun Austin, another app developer based in Cheltenham, said that “selling software in the US has already reached the non-viable tipping point”.

And Fraser Speirs, a Scottish developer who has written apps for the Mac and iOS, remarked that he was “starting to get seriously concerned about my future as a software developer due to these patent issues”.

The growth of patent lawsuits over apps raises serious issues for all the emerging smartphone platforms, because none of the principal companies involved - Apple, Google or Microsoft - can guarantee to protect developers from them. Even when the mobile OS developer has signed a patent licence - as Apple has with at least one company currently pursuing patent lawsuits - it is not clear that it has any legal standing to defend developers.

The article goes on to discuss the most recent patent lawsuits, coming from Mumbai-based Kootol Software. Their patent covers a system that “allows the user to publish and send messages using one way or two way messaging and by subscribing to posts of other users of a network”, and their suits are targeting both large and small companies.

It’s interesting to ask: who has any incentive to lobby for changes in the US patent approval process and cut these issues off at the root? Certainly not the big tech companies, who are too deeply engaged in patent cross-licensing to have any interest in messing with the status quo.

Without a big player like Apple or Google putting their resources into it, I can’t see any likelihood of change in the next few years. That’s a shame for those indie developers engaged in this industry.