The makers of the popular Angry Birds game are being sued by a US licensing company for allegedly infringing its patents, prompting a patent expert to issue a warning to app developers.
Rovio, the Finnish maker of Angry Birds, is being sued by a Texan company called Lodsys, which claims Rovio violated its patents with games on Apple’s iOS platform and Google’s Android.
Lodsys says it owns patents on the method used to buy new levels inside the game, a move which has already deterred a number of European developers from selling mobile apps in the US.
The US patent system allows software implementations of ideas to be patented, which differs significantly from the European Union, although the European Parliament has been considering aligning patent rights with the US.
The growth of lawsuits in the US by so-called “patent trolls” – which simply demand payments after assessing intellectual property rights – poses a major threat to the burgeoning mobile app market.
Several European independent developers have already said they will withdraw their apps from the US App Store for fear of being sued by Lodsys.
Lodsys is already embroiled in lawsuits with a raft of major tech companies including Apple, Electronic Arts and Take- Two Interactive, the maker of Grand Theft Auto.
James Omond, who heads commercial law firm Omond & Co., says with regard to patents, he doesn’t believe there is a lot of difference between app developers and everyone else.
“With globalisation the way it is, most businesses – especially manufacturing businesses – are going to want their product purchased worldwide,” he says.
“One of the issues with IP protection is that it’s a little bit ‘20th century’ in the territorial aspect of it. With a patent or trademark, you have to register on a country-by-country basis.”
Omond says there are international trustees that make it slightly easier to register internationally, but this can be a very expensive process.
“The European community is harmonising IP protection, so that could be seen as a model for maybe looking for worldwide harmonisation down the track,” he says.
“But different countries will have different vested interests, so it could be very difficult to come up with common protection that everyone’s going to be happy with.”