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7/22/2011
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Lodsys Targets Rovio, Big Game Makers

Those Angry Birds now have something else to be angry about: Rovio Mobile is one of five companies added to Lodsys's patent infringement claim against iOS and Android developers.

Lodsys, the patent licensing company that made waves in May when it sued several small iOS and Android developers, is hunting for bigger game. It has amended its patent infringement claim against iOS and Android developers to include game makers Atari, Electronic Arts, Rovio Mobile, Square-Enix, and Take-Two Interactive. It also dropped a defendant based in Vietnam, Wulven Games, from its lawsuit.

Florian Mueller, an intellectual property activist who has been following the case, reported the amended filing, noting that the addition of several established media companies to the lawsuit shows that Lodsys is not afraid of taking on developers with deep pockets.

If Lodsys is shifting its focus to companies that can afford litigation, it may find itself receiving fewer death threats. The Internet community's reflexive outrage at many intellectual property claims can be at least in part attributed to dislike of watching the strong prey on the weak.

Lodsys's expanded claims cite both iOS and Android apps as infringing its intellectual property. Apple, which claims its patent license with Lodsys covers its developers, had asked to intervene in the lawsuit, citing a "a direct and substantial interest in preserving the value of its license, as well as in protecting the value of its technology, services, and relationships with the Developers."

Google hasn't taken any public action to help its developers but insists that considers Android to be important. During its recent Q2 earnings call, CEO Larry Page responded to a question about the large number of patent lawsuits associated with Android in vague terms. "Despite the efforts of some of our competitors, there hasn't been any slowdown [of interest in Android]," he said, adding, "We're really committed to Android."

At Google mobile conference in Tokyo earlier this week, executive chairman Eric Schmidt reportedly said Google plans to help HTC deal with an Apple patent infringement claim. However, no details were provided and it remains to be seen whether individual developers--nowhere near as significant as Google's hardware partners--will be offered comparable aid.

The absence of details has allowed fear of risk to flourish and has prompted serious soul-searching in the developer community. In a recent blog post, Craig Hockenberry, a software engineer at Iconfactory, a well-regarded app developer and defendant in the Lodsys patent litigation, laments that patent and copyright infringement claims threaten to drive small developers out of business.

"From our experience, it's entirely possible that all the revenue for a product can be eaten up by legal fees," he wrote. "After years of pouring your heart and soul into that product, it's devastating. It makes you question why the hell you're in the business: When you can't pay salaries from product sales, there's no point in building it in the first place."

Iconfactory was one of 30 companies that has been sent a patent licensing request by Kootol Software.

The perceived risk of being dragged into a ruinously expensive patent lawsuit has prompted a few developers based outside the U.S. to remove their apps from the U.S. iTunes App Store.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a cyber-liberties group, has appealed for attorneys licensed to practice in the U.S. to provide their contact information to help advise companies targeted by so-called patent trolls.

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