Blix trying to get other 'Sherlocking' victims to fight Apple in court

Posted:
in iOS edited February 2020
The developer of BlueMail is asking other developers of iOS and macOS apps to call out Apple's "Sherlocking" practice, when it incorporates features from other apps and services, in the belief it's unfair for Apple to take another's ideas "without permission, payment, or credit."

Sign in with Apple, a feature that 'sherlocked' Blix
Sign in with Apple, a feature that 'Sherlocked' Blix


Blix, the firm behind BlueMail and Followapp, is currently in the process of suing Apple over the introduction of "Sign in with Apple," under a claim it copies BlueMail's "Share Email" feature. The BlueMail function allowed users to communicate using a "manageable public interaction address, without revealing their private interaction address," a concept that Sign in with Apple performs by creating custom email addresses and forwarding communications onward.

After filing that lawsuit in October, the firm has moved on to try and garner support from other developers who underwent similar instances of "Sherlocking," where their apps became effectively worthless after Apple produced its own version of core functions.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Blix is still working on the lawsuit, but believes the slow legal process is working in Apple's favor. While the firm has been in contact with other developers who underwent similar treatment and are unhappy with the circumstances, many have so far elected to avoid suing Apple or making too much of a fuss in public due to the potential for retribution.

"We are considering all options, including a class-action lawsuit," Blix co-founder Ben Volach claims. "We are going to make sure this is resolved. We are sure there are thousands that are suffering from this."

We're issuing a call for unity against the biggest tech company. If Apple has kicked you out of its App Store, used guidelines to control you, hijacked your ranking or stolen your tech, reach out to us at [email protected] https://t.co/W6Coxa5v1Z#fairness2020 #apple #developer

— BlueMail (@BlueMail)


The accusations of unfairness stem from Apple being both a rival software producer to the developers and the controller over the digital storefronts where the apps are sold. This has led to further claims Apple is making it so that the original apps are not able to compete against the Apple-produced equivalents fairly.

In Blix's case, its app was removed from the macOS App Store due to security concerns, but Apple insists "We have attempted on multiple occasions to assist in getting their BlueMail app back on the Mac App Store."

Apple also fields suggestion that it manipulates the app store to its benefit, but it asserts it does no such thing. "We provide all developers with a fair and level playing field on which they can compete," Apple told the report.

For parental control app Kidslox, the introduction of Apple's Screen Time coincided with the app being kicked off the app store along with other similar tools, under claims there were user privacy and security risks. In Kidslox's case, it was unable to provide updates to the app for over a year, though that changed once it was challenged in an "Abuse of Dominant Position" complaint at the European Commission in early 2019.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    I have also seen it on Windows 10 and Android. I have wondered how legal that behaviour is. Since Linux is free is there no legal action?
    edited February 2020
  • Reply 2 of 22
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,446member
    I have also seen it on Windows 10 and Android. I have wondered how legal that behaviour is. Since Linux is free is there no legal action?

    This is not an Apple thing, all platform providers do this. Apple just gets all the attention, because, well, it’s Apple. It’s perfectly legal as long as you can demonstrate your intent is not to be anti-competitive.

    In this instance, the fact that Apple has allowed BlueMail to exist is a demonstration of that... it is a “PDA” app that offers alternatives to Apple’s built-in apps, Calendar, Contants, Mail, etc. Even though the original developer’s agreement specifically mentions that developers cannot duplicate any “built-in” functions of the device.

    Over the years Apple has done the opposite of what everyone claims... They have relaxed their own developer guidelines and rules, over and over again to favor the development of more apps.
    edited February 2020 jony0
  • Reply 3 of 22
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,446member
    Blix is suing Apple because of a feature of “Sign in with ”; the generation of anonymous email addresses. Apparently Blix’s app BlueMail offers this same feature and therefor, they have been ‘sherlocked” by Apple.

    Blix did not invent anonymous email address generation and forwarding. In fact, there are many other apps and services that offer this same feature. Creating an anonymous email address to hide your main address is not a new idea. You can also create anonymous domain names, alternative passwords, random credit card tokens, phone numbers etc. The point of all of these is to be able to shutdown communication and/or access should the need arise, without needing to change your original.
    edited February 2020 jony0bshankwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 22
    The problem is that it doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny and glosses over the fact that Apple’s software, layouts and design aesthetic (beyond recommended guidelines) are constantly copied - even their icons are copied and reused without permission. Apple practices restraint because the alternative is to spend too much time in court. 

    Now let’s look at it from a high level: Apple produced software costs Apple money, 3rd party software on the App Store earns Apple 15-30% without Apple doing “anything”, hence it’s to Apple’s advantage just to sit and let 3rd party developers do their thing. 

    A final note, is that so many of these “copied” ideas are not only obvious, but ordinary for people who are developing in that field - if a feature is truly unique then a patent would provide some useful protection. If a developer takes an Apple designed feature and adds some basic or expected functions - then Apple is not “Sherlocking”, when they eventually roll out a similar set of obvious features. 




    jony0bshankwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 22
    mjtomlin said:
    Blix is suing Apple because of a feature of “Sign in with ”; the generation of anonymous email addresses. Apparently Blix’s app BlueMail offers this same feature and therefor, they have been ‘sherlocked” by Apple.

    Blix did not invent anonymous email address generation and forwarding. In fact, there are many other apps and services that offer this same feature. Creating an anonymous email address to hide your main address is not a new idea. You can also create anonymous domain names, alternative passwords, random credit card tokens, phone numbers etc. The point of all of these is to be able to shutdown communication and/or access should the need arise, without needing to change your original.
    Other than being obvious, of note is that this “feature” is actually described by the email RFC as a rationale for email aliases. 
    jony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 22
    Silly thought: Apply for a patent? 

    As a developer, I do hate that Apple frequently "Sherlocks" indie developers. I do think that, out of goodwill, they should provide fair compensation in such situations, but there are legal issues with that - opening the possibility of future legal action, particularly if the offer of compensation is not accepted (e.g. if Blix says that feature is worth US$1 Trillion). 

    I do think Apple could offer a technology licensing arrangement without admitting guilt somehow.

    Still, even if Apple were to license the technology from Blix, since they don't have a patent or any kind of trade dress, another company could sue them for the same thing the next day; then, the fact that they paid something to Blix could be used against them with that next company.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 22
    Silly thought: Apply for a patent? 

    As a developer, I do hate that Apple frequently "Sherlocks" indie developers. I do think that, out of goodwill, they should provide fair compensation in such situations, but there are legal issues with that - opening the possibility of future legal action, particularly if the offer of compensation is not accepted (e.g. if Blix says that feature is worth US$1 Trillion). 

    I do think Apple could offer a technology licensing arrangement without admitting guilt somehow.

    Still, even if Apple were to license the technology from Blix, since they don't have a patent or any kind of trade dress, another company could sue them for the same thing the next day; then, the fact that they paid something to Blix could be used against them with that next company.

    Blix does have a patent, that’s what part of this suit is about. Blix is suing for patent infringement and antitrust violations.
  • Reply 8 of 22
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,768member
    As much as possible, I try not to use 3rd party apps, even when they're free, when Apple offers a similar, free app.  I just can't be bothered to keep track of the different app developers and their track record for quality, customer support, and timely updates.  I also avoid the headache that results when a serious problem crops up and both Apple and the developer point at each other when I ask for assistance.  I suspect a lot of non-geeky users think the same way.  That's just the way of the tech world and independent developers should work around it rather than bang their heads against it.

    It's not as if Apple is immune from a competitor imitating their unpatentable technology and making tons of money from it.  Cough, Microsoft Windows, cough.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 22
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,446member

    Now let’s look at it from a high level: Apple produced software costs Apple money, 3rd party software on the App Store earns Apple 15-30% without Apple doing “anything”, hence it’s to Apple’s advantage just to sit and let 3rd party developers do their thing. 

    That’s the other point of contention when it comes accusing Apple of sherlocking competitors... To what end? To have those users switch to Apple’s version so Apple can make more money? That doesn’t apply in these cases, Apple doesn’t charge anything. As you pointed out, the opposite is true, for every user that uses Apple’s instead of buying a 3rd party version, Apple loses that possible revenue.
    bshankwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 22
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,446member
    carnegie said:
    Silly thought: Apply for a patent? 

    As a developer, I do hate that Apple frequently "Sherlocks" indie developers. I do think that, out of goodwill, they should provide fair compensation in such situations, but there are legal issues with that - opening the possibility of future legal action, particularly if the offer of compensation is not accepted (e.g. if Blix says that feature is worth US$1 Trillion). 

    I do think Apple could offer a technology licensing arrangement without admitting guilt somehow.

    Still, even if Apple were to license the technology from Blix, since they don't have a patent or any kind of trade dress, another company could sue them for the same thing the next day; then, the fact that they paid something to Blix could be used against them with that next company.

    Blix does have a patent, that’s what part of this suit is about. Blix is suing for patent infringement and antitrust violations.

    The problem when companies do this is they risk the chance of their patent (or parts of) being invalidated for being too vague or all encompassing. After reading portions it sounds to me like he patented this technique to all “communications”.  The other problem is the list of “prior art” patents this patent relies upon. Not to mention there’s nothing proprietary about it... it’s nothing more than a long winded description of aliases and forwarding as applied to email.
    bshank
  • Reply 11 of 22
    ktappektappe Posts: 808member
    mjtomlin said:

    Blix did not invent anonymous email address generation and forwarding. In fact, there are many other apps and services that offer this same feature. Creating an anonymous email address to hide your main address is not a new idea.

    Then it should be a slam-dunk for Apple in court; show previous art and ask for dismissal.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 22
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,669member
    Apple didn't even Sherlock Sherlock, never mind this nonsense. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 22
    "...we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas." -- Steve Jobs
  • Reply 14 of 22
    I’m making assumptions about the lawsuit based on users comments...

    But, if the case is really about 2 things patents & antitrust violations...

    The judge needs to split this up.  A patent violation is fairly easy to rule on.  An antitrust violation argument needs to be part of the DOJ investigation.  Until the DOJ does there part, finishing investigating the Apple App Store, the case isn’t going to go anywhere.

    The reason Blix is trying to combine them is because of a money grab.  Their patent if upheld isn’t worth that much...

    If the DOJ concludes the Apple App Store is a violation, Apple is going to be fined an maybe be required to restructure that part of the business.  Blix and everyone else won’t get anything...

    Blix knows this, so they’re trying to create a class action lawsuit, with pooled resources and a higher payout.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 22
    bonobobbonobob Posts: 307member
    tundraboy said:

    It's not as if Apple is immune from a competitor imitating their unpatentable technology and making tons of money from it.  Cough, Microsoft Windows, cough.
    Apple’s biggest sherlock of all time is when they copied their windowed gui from, cough, Xerox PARC, cough. 
  • Reply 16 of 22
    The best part of Bluemail's tweet is Astropad replying with a fists up emoji and the word "Solidarity" - another developer who feels "sherlocked" because Apple implemented something that has been possible for years with free software. (Indeed one can argue that Apple merely performed the logical extension of taking macOS's screen features onto the iPad.)

    The problem with Astropad and Bluemail is that they both have the mistaken belief of originality and with that their reason for being - their apps are not original, you can already duplicate their functionality with existing tools/apps - what their apps offer is convenience.

    I remember with my first iPad, I was often questioned if it could be used as as second display. Remote access via VNC was popular on iPad, and it didn't take long for people to hack together a virtual display for VNC to mirror onto a nearby iPad. This was years before Astropad existed. Then there is Bluemail, who have implemented a function which even the RFC for email talks about, which is why forwarding/aliases are part of the standard. In fact so many hosting providers (including my own) offer a gui front end for this functionality. The fact that Bluemail obtained a patent on this is laughable.
  • Reply 17 of 22
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,669member
    bonobob said:
    tundraboy said:

    It's not as if Apple is immune from a competitor imitating their unpatentable technology and making tons of money from it.  Cough, Microsoft Windows, cough.
    Apple’s biggest sherlock of all time is when they copied their windowed gui from, cough, Xerox PARC, cough. 
    Licensed. (As to be fair was some of apples designs by MS). 

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 22
    bellsbells Posts: 140member
    The whole premise of being Sherlocked is flawed.  First Sherlock came out before the more feature rich Watson. Watson itself was inspired by Sherlock.  It was foolish for Watson to think Apple wasn’t going to add more features with each OS update. 

    Same thing with Blix. Apple would never improve its products if it couldn’t use a feature found in another app especially since Apple only adds features on a yearly basis.

    If Blix wants protection, it needs a patentable idea.
    asdasd
  • Reply 19 of 22
    bellsbells Posts: 140member

    bonobob said:
    tundraboy said:

    It's not as if Apple is immune from a competitor imitating their unpatentable technology and making tons of money from it.  Cough, Microsoft Windows, cough.
    Apple’s biggest sherlock of all time is when they copied their windowed gui from, cough, Xerox PARC

    That analogy is flawed. Apple paid Xerox to look around for ideas.

    Plus Xerox’s GUI was running on a huge mainframe. Apple had to design the Mac from the ground up to work on 128 K machine. It was an engineering feat at the time.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 22
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,631member
    bonobob said:
    tundraboy said:

    It's not as if Apple is immune from a competitor imitating their unpatentable technology and making tons of money from it.  Cough, Microsoft Windows, cough.
    Apple’s biggest sherlock of all time is when they copied their windowed gui from, cough, Xerox PARC, cough. 

    They paid to view and secure staff from the project. If Xerox's current products are anything to go by they would have never turn it in to a product, I think the team a PARC must had know that at the time.
    watto_cobra
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