• Dr. Mohan Dewan & Sneha Bhosale

The manner in which information is shared with friends and colleagues has changed drastically since the outbreak of mobile technology. These days, almost every mobile user uses multiple mobile applications associated with social media services, social networking, social gaming and the like. The growing popularity of such mobile applications comes with important legal issues as this industry is highly prone to intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement.

By 2016, it is expected that the Indian mobile applications market will touch INR 2,700 crores (US$ 437 million). This transformation in the Indian consumer market will offer massive potential for growth in this sector. So, a mobile application developer must consider the traditional legal issues related to the protection of mobile applications. It is important to address the legal aspects by attending to the following:

• the name of the Mobile Application should be registered as a trademark;

• the technology behind it must be patented;

• the design of the Mobile Application icon should be registered as a trademark;

• the code of the Mobile Application must be copyrighted; and

• the layout/screen shots should be copyrighted.

Lodsys LLC

Lodsys LLC is a Texas based company famous for bringing patent infringement lawsuits against a variety of companies in the US. This company is infamous in smartphone app development circles as it has sued many developers over the usage of Lodsys’ patents. On May 13, 2011, it was reported that Lodsys had demanded that a number of iOS application developers obtain licenses from them as they hold patents for products and services related to interaction with customers over the internet. Their patents basically claim covers on any mobile app that involves things like online help and support for customers, tutorials, on-line upgrades, surveys and the like.

Small iOS developers using Apple’s in-app purchase and upgrade functionalities were threatened by Lodsys for infringement of Lodsys-held patents. Apple held a license to the patent in question, and so agreed to back the developers in this case claiming that Apple’s existing license with Lodsys automatically extends to cover third-party developers who use Apple’s tools. However, as a result of continued pressure from Lodsys, numerous developers chose to purchase the licenses for Lodsys’ patents instead of a court fight.

The end result of this case was that the companies Apple was trying to help were no longer participants in the litigation and Apple’s arguments were recognized to be irrelevant to the case. As a result, Lodsys filed a motion to dismiss Apple’s claims, and the court agreed. Lodsys’s plan of collecting small payments from a large number of app developers was successful and since the judge tossed Apple’s legal challenge, Lodsys is now free to continue patent threats against developers.

Zhizhen Technology Inc. vs. Apple

In July 2013, Zhizhen Technology Inc. sued Apple over the use of ‘Siri’ (an intelligent chatting system installed on many Apple products). A public hearing was held in Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court for patent infringement of the same.

Zhizhen asserted that Apple infringed the Chinese patent entitled ‘A Chatting Robot System’ which was marketed in China as the ‘little i robot’. Zhizhen requested the court to order Apple to stop using, making and selling Siri, as the Siri’s technical solution fell within the scope of the claims of their Chinese patent.

However, Apple claimed that ‘Siri’, being a form of intelligent interactive assistant, is entirely dissimilar to the ‘little i robot’ which is a robot that deals with chatting and games. Apple also asserted that the claims of the Chinese patent in question were not clear as to its protection scope and hence, Apple filed an invalidation request with the Patent Re-examination Board (PRB) requesting the Board to declare the Chinese patent in question invalid.

It was reported that because of the complexity of the case, the investigation of its facts was not finished and that the Shanghai Court would hear the case again on another date.

Overall, Apple has had to face 171 cases in five years making them the number one target for patent trolls.

Aforementioned examples only give the gist of the legal aspects associated with any mobile application. It is thus very important to understand and consider all the issues and IP rights related to the protection of mobile applications. It is imperative that all IP in applications be adequately protected under law. This will allow the mobile application developers complete authority over their IP assets.


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Copyright © 2022 R. K. Dewan & Co.