Android Ecosystem Is Not Immune from Lawsuits

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While everyone focuses on the patent infringement suit Apple filed against HTC, there are many smaller skirmishes happening in all of software development, and the Android ecosystem is far from immune.

Some developers have been the target of patent claims, such as for displaying city of a caller on an inbound call. Some developers get attacked for more nebulous concepts, such as look-and-feel of applications.

Here are some thoughts on dealing with these situations:

Developers usually are not qualified legal counsel. Asking developers for legal advice is asking for trouble, IMHO. Asking about specific items of relevance — “has anyone seen other airplane games that had intersecting runway layouts?” — is a great use of developers and crowdsourcing in general. But for legal advice, you will want qualified legal counsel.

That being said, you will also need to consider whether it is worthwhile. If you are trying to turn a buck (or pound or yen or...) on the app, will your anticipated revenues cover your legal bills? Bear in mind that trans-national “intellectual property” disputes will take a higher grade of attorney than you'll likely find on late-night television commercials, and their rates may be commensurate. You can always try for pro bono legal assistance, but that is not always easy to come by, and it helps if you have an open-and-shut case.

You might ask your legal counsel whether you should drop distribution of your app, not globally, but in areas where you may be more open to legal attack. For example, if you are a British application developer, and the complaint comes from Australia, are the Australian downloads worth it? The Android Market in particular allows you to drop distribution from any given country where you might have problems.

Another question to ask yourself is: can adjusting your application based on the criticism actually make it better? For example, if the complaint is about particular graphics, make your app themeable, junking the original graphics from an official standpoint but allowing others to create their own artwork and use them in your app. Admittedly, this requires a bit of trickery, since downloadable graphics packages would not gain from Android's built-in resource management support. But it may be worth the effort if you want to keep your app available yet not run afoul of look-and-feel disputes. Besides, we might be able to collectively develop an app-theming subsystem, or perhaps there are some already available for use. (If anyone knows of such an app-theming engine for Android, post it in the comments)

You are, of course, welcome to tell the complainant to “go pound sand”, if your principles are your foundation and you are willing to risk any legal shenanigans that result. Just make sure the principles are worth the pain.

This story, "Android Ecosystem Is Not Immune from Lawsuits" was originally published by Network World.

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