Apple Files Patent For In-App Purchases

In-App Purchases

According a newly surfaced patent application, that was filed back in April 2010, it seems that Apple intends to patent the idea of In-App Purchases. The feature which was introduced in iOS 3.0, has been the reason a number of developers have lost their sleep after receiving patent infringement notices from Lodsys, LLC.

The patent application entitled “In Application Purchasing” is a bit more specific than Lodsys’ patents that cover the broad idea of “interacting with customers over the internet in relationship to products and services”, but still manages to cover a number of real world uses which may impact competitors like Google, RIM etc.

Even though Apple filed for this patent in April 2010, when Lodsys didn’t yet start sending notices to app developers, it was well aware of the patents Lodsys owned. The two companies have already communicated through letters, and with this we can expect a lot more disputes to arise.

In-App Purchases Patent

The main claim (claim 1) of the filing is:

A method comprising: presenting an application offering a product for purchase, the application being from a first entity; presenting a purchase interface overlaid the application, the purchase interface being from a second entity; and completing a sales transaction without navigating away from the application. 

While this is the exact description of the way an In-App Purchase works on iOS devices, further modifications of claim 1 greatly broaden the reach of the patent:

The method of claim 1, wherein the application is an advertisement. 

The method of claim 1, wherein the purchase interface is for purchasing a product directly from an online store. 

Just with these two simple modifications of the main claim, Apple ate into Google’s territory (advertising) as well as stores which use third party payment services to process payments. Moreover, the patent isn’t just restricted to mobile devices, it covers any computing device, “even a household appliance having a processor and a display”.

Apple uses the first modification to offer non-disruptive downloads of applications shown as iAds which when clicked display the familiar App Store UI.

It still isn’t clear how Apple hopes to get this patent approved from the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office as Lodsys’ patents already cover the concept of In-App purchases.

In case the patent receives approval, it would be interesting to see whether companies like Google, Microsoft, RIM etc. sign licensing agreements with Apple or take matters to the court. The approval of the patent would also put Apple in a much better position to defend its developers from Lodsys.

[via Tom’s Guide]