Mercedes Ruehl Reporter

Mercedes writes for The Australian Financial Review and BRW from the Sydney newsroom. She has an interest in technology, politics and travel writing.

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NSW government applauds TripView app developer three years after sue threat

Published 11 April 2013 11:58, Updated 12 April 2013 07:22

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NSW government applauds TripView app developer three years after sue threat

Nick Maher’s TripView uses GPS technology to track Sydney trains, buses and ferries. Photo: Sasha Woolley

More than a million people are said to be using his software to get to work on time, but the developer of TripView was very nearly sued by RailCorp in NSW for creating an app that provided train and bus times for commuters.

Like many transport apps, TripView uses GPS technology to track Sydney trains, buses and ferries. Nick Maher and several other software developers have worked with the NSW government to build free and paid versions of the technology. More than a million people have downloaded the bus apps in the last three months, according to the state Transport Department.

Maher and his company Grofsoft’s latest feat this week is updating the app to show live train locations for NSW. With the help of the state government, he also helped to develop live bus timetables apps in December 2012.

“This Government has been committed to providing customers with more information and the launch of these real time trains apps follows the successful roll out of the real time bus apps in December which have so far been downloaded more than one million times,” Trasport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said.

But several years ago Maher was regarded as working against the government when his app became popular, in 2009.

He and several other developers of similar apps, such as Metro Sydney and Transit Sydney, were threatened with copyright infringement suits by the NSW government agency RailCorp, even though it offered no equivalent services to commuters.

Maher said at the time it was a shame because he thought letting developers compete would help RailCorp come up with better products. RailCorp obviously heeded his words, inviting developers to take part in a competition both to develop the real time bus apps in 2012 and then the train apps in February this year.

“They could have built their own app but instead opened it up to competition which is good because you get more innovation that way,” Maher told BRW, adding the government had been primarily concerned that data on the early apps was incorrect. “It’s unfortunate the way it played out but it came good in the end.”

But the slapping of copyright fines on app developers is still a worrying trend, Maher says. There are real concerns that smartphones have become a hunting ground for what are dubbed “patent trolls”.

One of the highest profile defendants so far is the maker of extremely popular game Angry Birds, Rovio Mobile, which was sued by Lodsys LLC in 2011. This and other cases prompted a lot of developers to withdraw their apps from Apple and Android stores for fear of being sued over intellectual property rights they may not even be aware of.

“It is a bit of a concern, a lot of these trolls have got patents for frivolous things,” Maher said, describing one company that has got a patent on in-app purchases to upgrade to a better version. “They are now suing companies big and small for doing the same thing.”

While RailCorp doesn’t constitute as one of these trolls, its initial reaction is an example of what discourages a lot of potential app developers.

It was the NSW Premier at the time, Nathan Rees, who eventually came to Maher’s rescue after a social media storm and sided with the developers.

In the future, though, commuters will no doubt be hoping patent trolls and lawsuit threat don’t scare away a developer from building an app to make the trains run on time.

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