Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Contraction Tracker USA is the result of patent infringement

As some of you may know, my husband and I build iPhone apps. Our first app in the iTunes store was the Contraction Tracker. Its one year anniversary in iTunes is actually coming up :) Recently, we released a version of the Contraction Tracker for the USA that is exactly the same as the original version, minus one feature. What I'm about to talk about is actually a common problem. If you are an iPhone Developer or any software Developer, you may benefit from hearing about our experience.

In the Fall of last year, we were contacted by someone who owned a patent for an alert system to be used in timing labor contractions. We have been discussing his patent and how it relates to our Contraction Tracker for something like 7 months. When he was finally clear at what exactly our application was infringing on, we decided to remove it so that we could both move on. This is the first time we have ever been in this position. We had no idea we would run into patent issues building something so simple such as a contraction timing application.

A guy that I contract for is recently applying for a US patent so I have been talking with him about some of these matters. Apparently, lawyers tell companies never to do patent searches. The reason is if you find a patent that you cannot avoid with technical workarounds, then you are stuck. You can't go ahead because that would then be willful infringement, which carries even more damages. You also can't license the patent for a reasonable price, because the other party knows they have you over a barrel. The very fact that you bothered to ask for a license gives away the fact that you do not have a technical workaround for the patent. If you never do a patent search, then by definition any infringement is not willful, so you are not liable to treble damages. These were his words and I am still very new at all this. The problem seems to be the patent system.

We removed the alert feature from our original Contraction Tracker and released the app as a separate new app just for the US store. We did this because there was no simple way of updating the app for one country. By releasing a new app, everyone who had already purchased the app in the US would not be affected. We also get to continue selling the original app everywhere else in the world. The alert feature is a minor feature but a nice one to have. It is actually disabled by default and from what I hear, a lot of people may not even know about it. It definitely does not define our app and removing this feature from all future sales in the US store should not affect things so much. Or will it?

Contraction Tracker USA has been out for a week and sales have dropped dramatically. The main reason we think is because we lost all of our previous ratings and reviews. We have a note saying that this is not a new app and if users click through to our website, they will be able to see a screenshot of the ratings and reviews before we submitted the US version. Again, this is the same app, minus a minor feature. What do we do now? Well, we just have to wait until more people purchase our app and submit new ratings and reviews.


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