Developer of BlueMail sues Apple over 'Sign in with Apple,' App Store 'monopoly'

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 2019
A developer of messaging products and software behind apps like Followapp and BlueMail on Friday filed a multi-pronged lawsuit against Apple, claiming the tech giant infringed on patented technology with "Sign in with Apple" and subsequently used its alleged monopoly over the App Store to suppress BlueMail's consumer reach.

Sign in with Apple
Apple SVP Craig Federighi presents "Sign in with Apple" at WWDC 2019. | Source: Blix v. Apple


In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, Ben Volach, co-founder of software development firm Blix, asserts Apple stole BlueMail's "Share Email" feature for integration in "Sign in with Apple."

According to the suit, Share Email enables users to communicate "using manageable public interaction addresses, without revealing their private interaction addresses." (Emphasis in original.) BlueMail users, such as companies, can leverage the feature to post an email address to social media platforms, then engage in secure private messaging with customers through said account.

In essence, the technology acts as an automated clearinghouse for anonymized public messages. The key to BlueMail's private messaging method is the generation of a "reverse list" that ties user actions to their public address. This technique presents a fence through which parties can send and receive messages to a unique public account without divulging their private email address.

Volach received protection for the technology behind Share Email in 2017 in U.S. Patent No. 9,749,284. According to the plaintiff, elements of Sign in with Apple infringe on the '284 patent.

Unveiled at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June and implemented in iOS 13, Sign in with Apple is an in-house authentication service designed to mask private user data. An alternative to single sign-on authentication systems in use by Google and Facebook, Sign in with Apple offers more control over what information is shared with third-parties in an effort to limit or nullify user tracking.

As it directly applies to Volach's invention, Sign in with Apple presents users an option to protect, or "hide," their email account from web entities that require email authentication. When "Hide My Email" is selected, Apple's system generates a unique email address specific to a querying app or web service, then forwards all communication from that address to a user's private email account. To grant users more control over multiple sign-ons, each relay address can be disabled at any time.

Volach claims Apple's alleged theft of BlueMail's Share Email function hurt the app and Blix, a successor company launched in September 2019 to provide corporations with technology outlined in the '248 patent. As noted in the filing, one of Blix's major features is Messaging Bridge, a system that enables companies to engage with customers through anonymous interactions.

In addition to patent infringement, Volach, citing a recent New York Times article, claims Apple artificially suppressed BlueMail from appearing in App Store search results. Apple supposedly updated App Store search algorithms following the NYT investigation, and as a result BlueMail jumped from No. 143 to No. 13 in search results for simple keywords like "email," according to the filing.

Finally, the plaintiff alleges Apple removed BlueMail's macOS client from the Mac App Store citing violation of App Store Guideline 4.3, a regulation covering "spam" apps that duplicate another app's content and functionality. The takedown occurred on May 21, less than two weeks before Sign in with Apple was announced.

Interestingly, Apple said BlueMail aped an app called TypeApp, which is developed by a company affiliated with Volach. The complaint notes TypeApp was voluntarily removed from the App Store weeks prior to BlueMail's entrance on May 8, a situation that seemingly undermines Apple's claims of "duplicate" content.

Volach is suing Apple for patent infringement and illegal monopolization of the App Store, and seeks an injunction, damages and legal fees.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,265member
    An ever mounting pile of evidence that not only is the patent system totally buggered and rigged to be run by profiteering asshats, but also that most of the US is fucked up beyond recognition in terms of intelligence, or lack thereof.
    LaraCroft836netmagewilliamlondonolschasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 21
    flydogflydog Posts: 1,097member
    An ever mounting pile of evidence that not only is the patent system totally buggered and rigged to be run by profiteering asshats, but also that most of the US is fucked up beyond recognition in terms of intelligence, or lack thereof.
    The real problem is asshats who render opinions without knowing any facts.  
    chadbagbonobobpulseimagesjedwards87MplsPwilliamlondonolsuraharabeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 3 of 21
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,821member
    I am surprised that the patent for the hidden email bit was granted.  Such technology (or similar) can basically be had through simple email forwarding setups, which have been around forever.  

    I have my private Email, [email protected] and want to keep it hidden.   So I subscribe to an email service that sells forwarding addresses and buy [email protected] and have it forwarded to my private email.  I set my email client to have the from set to the forwarded address and voila.  

    Tech for that has been around for a long time. 
    macplusplusnetmagebb-15neutrino23chasmdedgeckowatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 21
    Yet another person/group thinking that it must be someone else’s fault that they are not as successful as they think they should be. Like, can’t we all see how we would all love them if it weren’t for those pesky kids at Apple?  :D
    macpluspluspulseimagesnetmageuraharawatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 21
    foljsfoljs Posts: 388member
    An ever mounting pile of evidence that not only is the patent system totally buggered and rigged to be run by profiteering asshats, but also that most of the US is fucked up beyond recognition in terms of intelligence, or lack thereof.
    That pile exists. But this case seems pretty clear cut in favor of the accuser. They indeed had patented prior art, whether we like it or not.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 6 of 21
    foljsfoljs Posts: 388member
    svanstrom said:
    Yet another person/group thinking that it must be someone else’s fault that they are not as successful as they think they should be. Like, can’t we all see how we would all love them if it weren’t for those pesky kids at Apple?  :D
    Well, if you have a patented technology, and a company infringes on it implementing something with the same mechanism, then that "person/group" is right.

    You could argue that patents are bad in general or something, but they exist, and are a legal part of business. Besides, this is not a patent troll with some BS portfolio, this is a company with an actual product AND a patent on this mechanism.  And Apple protects its patents fiercely as well.

    Would you just bend over backwards, take it in the ass, and surrender your prior work?


    williamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 21
    foljsfoljs Posts: 388member
    chadbag said:
    I am surprised that the patent for the hidden email bit was granted.  Such technology (or similar) can basically be had through simple email forwarding setups, which have been around forever.  

    I have my private Email, [email protected] and want to keep it hidden.   So I subscribe to an email service that sells forwarding addresses and buy [email protected] and have it forwarded to my private email.  I set my email client to have the from set to the forwarded address and voila.  

    Tech for that has been around for a long time. 
    The different is the fit-for-purpose, direct implementation. That you could achieve it manually by using a forwarding website is not the same.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 8 of 21
    fahlmanfahlman Posts: 738member
    foljs said:
    Well, if you have a patented technology, and a company infringes on it implementing something with the same mechanism, then that "person/group" is right.
    Just because this developer has a patent doesn't mean he is the original inventor of the concept, it just means the US Patent Office rubber stamps stuff knowing that if it there is a previously granted duplicate patent or prior art it will be sorted out in court.
    netmagechasmsvanstromwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 21
    Based on what’s stated on this article, it does sound like the developer has a case on two points. The only thing I don’t think they have a case on is the App Store issue. So after the NYT article his rating jumped from 143 to 13? Could it not be that the article itself caused a spike in interest, which caused an increase of downloads, which made it jump from 143 to 13? Isn’t that more likely than Apple adjusting the algorithm so they’ll move up in the results?
    netmagebb-15svanstromwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 21
    Maybe it’s time to rethink the idea of patents. Seems they are causing more bad than good. Is there not any proposals out there for how change this system?
    williamlondonuraharawatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 21
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,821member
    foljs said:
    chadbag said:
    I am surprised that the patent for the hidden email bit was granted.  Such technology (or similar) can basically be had through simple email forwarding setups, which have been around forever.  

    I have my private Email, [email protected] and want to keep it hidden.   So I subscribe to an email service that sells forwarding addresses and buy [email protected] and have it forwarded to my private email.  I set my email client to have the from set to the forwarded address and voila.  

    Tech for that has been around for a long time. 
    The different is the fit-for-purpose, direct implementation. That you could achieve it manually by using a forwarding website is not the same.
    Patents cover methodologies (techniques), not purposes.  The technology has been out there since forever.  And there use of it is obvious and non-unique based on the fact that there are lots of websites out there selling similar services using email forwarding 
    netmagebb-15svanstromwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 21
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,821member
    Maybe it’s time to rethink the idea of patents. Seems they are causing more bad than good. Is there not any proposals out there for how change this system?
    No.  If this were indeed some unique new invention it would be exactly why we have patents.  To protect the people who make actual new inventions from being ripped off by big pockets. 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 13 of 21
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,919member
    Apple should bias search results towards genuine iOS native apps, the higher the proportion of native frameworks they use, the higher the score/prominence.  That way all the dross can slide to the bottom. They should be open, blatant and brutal about it too.
    netmagewatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 21
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,259member
    foljs said:
    Would you just bend over backwards, take it in the ass, and surrender your prior work?
    I believe your mixed metaphors work at crossed purposes.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 21
    foljs said:
    Would you just bend over backwards, take it in the ass, and surrender your prior work?
    For that to work you should bend “forward”, right? 🤪
    edited October 2019 williamlondonbb-15watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 21
    foljs said:
    Would you just bend over backwards, take it in the ass, and surrender your prior work?
    For that to work you should bend “forward”, right? 🤪

    Yup. I guess we see where the real lack of intelligence is.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 21
    normangnormang Posts: 118member
    Citing the New York Times for precedent is a laugh, I wouldn't believe they get any anything right ever, they could publish water is wet and I might have a hard time believing it. 
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 21
    icoco3icoco3 Posts: 1,474member
    Craigslist has been doing the same thing for well over 15 years so you can communicate without revealing your actual email address.  Need a LOT more information really...
    neutrino23watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 21
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,612member
    While not saying the Bluemail guy doesn't have ANY case, I can cite prior art to his patent without much effort -- a service that hid my real email address from at least 10 if not 15 years earlier than the patent cited in the article, so ... prepare to have your patent invalidated, pal, you didn't come up with this idea either.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 21
    uraharaurahara Posts: 690member
    Aliases for Apple Mail were available for quite some time. Even before that Yahoo had aliases which could be used without revealing your actual email and then be simply deleted. For me it seems, it is very similar functionality what was patented. I might misunderstand though.
    watto_cobra
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