Patent Dispute Threatens to Silence 3-Year-Old

A young girl using an iPad app to communicate may see that app disappear

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Patent Dispute Threatens to Silence 3-Year-Old
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Dana Nieder, a blogger and mother, wrote a touching blog post on her family’s blog this past weekend. It seems she finally found a tool to help her daughter, who has developmental delays, communicate. However, due to a patent dispute, that tool may soon disappear.

Dana writes:

“My daughter, Maya, will turn four in May and she can’t speak. The only word that she can consistently say with 100% clarity is ‘done’—which, while helpful, isn’t really enough to functionally communicate. When Maya was two and a half we introduced her to the iPad, and we’ve danced with AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) ever since. We experimented with a few communication apps, but nothing was a perfect fit. After an extensive search for the perfect app, we found it: Speak for Yourself. Simple and brilliant, we saw that it had the potential to serve Maya into adulthood, but was also simple enough for her to start using immediately.”

Dana has shared video of Maya using the app, on YouTube:

Dana became excited for her daughter, who is learning how to “talk” using the app. “And I started to have little flashes of the future, in which she could rapidly tap out phrases and ideas and tell me more and more of the secret thoughts that fill her head—the ones that I’m hungry to hear and she’s dying to share but her uncooperative mouth just can’t get out,” Dana wrote.

Unfortunately for Maya, the Speak For Yourself app might sued out of existence. Who would do such a thing? The big players in the AAC industry Dana says, that’s who.

The lawsuit Dana refers to is Semantic Compaction Systems Inc. and Prentke Romich Company v. Speak For Yourself LLC. In the filing, Semantic and Prentke allege that the makers of the Speak For Yourself app, Renee Collender and Heidi Lostracco, attended seminars hosted by Semantic and Prentke and then became determined to make an app that infringed on their “patented technology for dynamic keyboards and methods for dynamically redefining keys on a keyboard in the context of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (“AAC”) systems.”

If that patent claim seems a little vague to you, a little over-broad, you aren’t alone. In her post, Dana points out that those large companies sell proprietary communication devices for upwards of $9,000. Obviously, an iPad app sells for much less. Chalk up another instance of aging, sometimes dying, industries trying to stave off the inevitable rush of innovation that the internet has brought. I find myself pondering what happened to the typewriter industry when the PC came along.

Dana blogs that she used to think one of the large companies’ devices would be the only thing good enough for Maya, and that an app could not compare. But, after finding out that the devices those companies make are too big “literally and figuratively” for Maya, she inquired as to whether these companies are investing in an app of their own. They are not. Dana writes:

“I went on to learn that customers have been requesting an app for quite some time from PRC, but they seem to have no interest in joining the iPad market, much to the dismay of the users. And why not? Why not make an app that could be used by some of their nonverbal consumers? Why not create a more affordable alternative to the large devices, something that could conceivably bring a voice to many, many more nonverbal children and adults? I want to think that it’s not just about the money . . . but it seems to clearly be just about the money.”

That’s unfortunate, as for Maya and her family it is about so much more. And to an increasing number of others as well: Dana is finding out how fast the internet is at getting the word out:

As it turns out, tech folks hate broad patent lawsuits. My post is traveling amongst the tech crowd. Over 12,000 hits today. Holy cow. 1 day ago via web ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Patent Dispute Threatens to Silence 3-Year-Old
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  • davnel

    What do I think? I think the patent system is and has been an unmitigated disaster for at least the last 20 years, with software patents being the worst offenders. Unless and until this situation is cleaned up, the large corporations, with deep pockets, have the means to kill off any and all innovation and competition, and do so with seeming delight, such as this farce. We need to repeal all laws regarding software patents, and totally revise both the patent law and the methods used to grant patents. It would appear that little or NO research is being implemented by the patent examiners, especially in the software patent field. That must change or there’s not much future for our country.

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