Apple Files Patent For In-App Purchases


So far, Lodsys has claimed all rights to in app purchases and Apple has been paying license fees since it enabled the feature with iOS 3. There has been no news on the development of the discussions between Lodsys and Apple since the end of May and it appears that mobile developers - not just iOS developers - and Lodsys are in a wait-and-see position for now.

However, yesterday a patent filing surfaced that could introduce a new dynamic to the case. Apple apparently filed a patent for in-app purchases on April 26, 2010, almost one year after the release of iOS 3, which was introduced with the iPhone 3GS in June of 2009. Lodsys' claims are primarily based on a patent entitled "Customer-based product design module", which was filed in 2006 and granted in November 2009. Lodsys' document describes an idea that enables future interaction with a customer or user within a service or application, which may include a "purchase order".

When Apple filed its "In Application Purchasing" document, it was certainly aware of Lodsys' patent and we can most certainly expect action from one side or the other. Apple's in app purchases explicitly describe the offer of a product purchase, a translucent purchase interface, a partially transparent purchase interface, an application server targeting the app to a user, and advertisement that could represent an application, as well as an opportunity to purchase a product directly from a separate store. Apple's pitch is an idea that would help application developers to actually sell their product, even if they have to offer it initially free of charge to attract users: "Consumers can be extremely fickle and accordingly many different things can cause a consumer to walk away from a potential purchase. Each step in the purchasing process presents a new opportunity for the consumer to decide not to purchase a product," the patent application reads.

As a solution, Apple offers a "technology [that] provides a purchasing interface within an application that allows users to purchase a product from another source without leaving the application. The application offers a product for purchase, and a user, desiring to purchase the product can provide an input effective to cause a purchasing interface to be displayed. While the purchasing interface, or information presented therein, comes from the product source, which is different than the application source, it is presented in such a fashion that gives the impression to the user that they are purchasing the product directly from the application."

The idea is, in general, very similar to the Lodsys patent, however, it is much more specific. If Apple was granted the rights to the patent, both sides could easily challenge each other's patents. The question, of course, would also be what Apple would do, if this patent is granted, about Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry developers? Most likely nothing, as there are countless iOS developers who offer their apps for multiple platforms and Apple may not have an interest in upsetting them.