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Developer coalition aims to ward off Lodsys, others

A new project aims to help protect mobile application developers with a new group that will pool together resources to fight back against patent infringement suits.

Amid the mounting pile of patent infringement cases targeting mobile application developers, one group has laid out plans to fight back by pooling resources with others.

Mike Lee, the co-founder of Tapulous, former Apple employee, and founder of Amsterdam-based development initiative Appsterdam today revealed plans to mount a defense against Lodsys and other patent holders as part of an effort he's calling "Operation Anthill." In short, it involves pooling resources to hire a technology attorney, provide money to back legal defenses in patent-related cases, and draft intellectual property legislation that would help protect developers. As it stands, Lee says the effort already has its legal counsel with a single attorney in Texas.

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What's up with the name? Lee compared the legal actions by Lodsys and others to stepping on an ant hill, wherein you end up with a swarm of attacking ants. "You could, in theory, crush them one by one, but it's much easier to just avoid anthills," Lee wrote.

So far that swarm includes Lee and a staff of around 60 people which make up what Lee calls a "meta-organization." Lee told Ars Technica (which first reported on Lee's effort) that he expects the effort to grow following today's rallying cry.

Software patents have become powerful ammunition to groups like Lodsys, MacroSolve and others, though especially over the course of this year, due in no small part to the growing popularity of mobile applications. These intellectual property holders began targeting companies big and small for allegedly infringing on patents held, offering up licensing deals at the risk of litigation if such a deal could not be struck. For small-time developers, that licensing fee, or legal cost could mean the end of the business, something Lee's legal fund aims to remedy.

"We will let the patent trolls know: if you attack one indie, you attack all indies, and we will file every motion we can against you, we will attack your patents, and we will show you for the mafioso thugs you are," Lee wrote.

A lawsuit filed by Lodsys earlier this year is of particular relevance to Lee's effort, now taking aim at 10 developers, several of which are independent. In that case, Lodsys--a nonpracticing entity that holds four software patents--says that the games and applications from those developers infringe on two of its patents. Apple in June tried to step in to help the targeted developers, but the court has not yet decided on an action and Lodsys last week filed opposition to that motion.

Lee's efforts join a $5,000 bounty from April and a $15,000 bounty from June, targeting patents held by MacroSolve and Lodsys respectively. Those bounties were set by clients of Article One Partners, a business that crowdsources intellectual property research to find prior art, or examples of pre-existing technologies that could be used as evidence to invalidate one or more of the patents held by those groups. Lee told CNET the group would be contributing toward those bounties along with "any other efforts we see as potentially effective in making indies unpleasant victims."

Updated at 4:02 p.m. PT with an update to the size of Lee's organization.