Speak for Yourself patent case continues; family communication still hangs in the balance

Previously I wrote an article about action taken against an iPad app called "Speak for Yourself", having been aided in writing about this by the information of the Nieder family, who came to rely on the software to communicate with their non-verbal daughter. Since the article was posted on June 13th, things have changed further, and are still worth covering.

Maya Nieder is not the only person to have grown to rely on the app, whose developers were being sued by the Prentke Romich Corporation and Semantic Compaction Systems. The app was taken down from the App Store, and therefore development for it has been halted. No new changes can be made to it and it cannot be altered to take advantage of changes to the iPad's operating system in the future. From a purely business standpoint that's good for the companies who feel their patents have been violated by the Speak for Yourself application. The families of those who are rendered unable to talk do not agree, and now, they're making their voices heard.

On July 13th, three families came together to file an intervening motion in the case. These families all have non-verbal children who came to appreciate the iPad app. These children Robert Hambright, Maya Nieder and Schuyler Rummel-Hudson, all came to rely upon Speak for Yourself to express themselves using the voice they could not have used otherwise. At present, the families are not represented in the court case. It is a clear-cut company versus company battle, and the families it will go on to effect have been forgotten. Their intent is to draw attention to their need for the app as well.

Maya's mother, Dana, explains the goals of their intervention via their blog.

The motion to intervene is not an act of siding with either party in the case.  We are not offering any opinion as to whether Speak for Yourself is infringing on the patents of PRC/SCS, as we know very little of patents and that issue is best decided by the court.

The reason they intervened on Friday was due to actions in court. The parties in the lawsuit both filed briefs claiming "irreparable harm". The Speak for Yourself developers say that the removal of their app has brought irreparable harm to their business. They have lost money and their reputation has been tarnished by the takedown. Prentke Romich and Semantic Compaction have argued that this is not irreparable harm, and the application should not return to the App Store.

Neither side in this argument has actually paid attention to the group most at harm in these briefs: their users. Prentke Romich and Semantic Compaction both produce dedicated devices for accomplishing the task Speak for Yourself was designed for, and yet do not seem to have focused upon the users both the app, and their tools, are designed for. For an outsider, it seems like a normal corporate litigation session but for the families who have grown to love Speak for Yourself it must be torturous, for the app's future to be so uncertain.

It will still work for now and they can continue to use it. Future updates to iOS could break it or render it unusable, and future iPads may come pre-loaded with a version of iOS it is incompatible with. The app's future may be limited, and it would be a shame for the families to lose out on their primary form of communication with their offspring.

Source: Nieder family blog and email from Dana Nieder

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