A Great Assistive Speech iOS app in the Middle of a Patent War?

Speak for Yourself is an app that helps children who can’t. There are a lot of applications in the App Store that help kids with speech disabilities and Speak for Yourself is one that is getting a lot of attention lately because another company claims to hold the patent for the software. Apple recently pulled the app as the case is currently being heard in court. While none of us can say who is right or wrong at this time, one thing is for sure, children with speech disorders are the ones losing out in this patent war.

Prentke Romich Company (PRC) and Semantic Compaction Systems claim that the developers of Speak for Yourself infringed on more than 100 of their software patents. The developers of the app are calling the claims baseless, telling Elecrtonisa, “We will continue our vigorous challenge to the validity of the PRC/Semantic patents, and defense against the claim that our app infringes on any valid patent — it does not.”

The developers also compared the differences between the two software programs, stating that PCR/Semantic’s main software is not used in their applications, claiming that the concept, which involves non-literal symbols matched to word that have more than one meaning was confusing to many therapists, teachers and parents.

PCR/Semantic has a press statement on their Facebook page that states, “”there’s a reason patents are in place, to protect decades of hard work and research that go into our devices. To take someone’s life work and market it as your own is simply wrong.”

Apple wasn’t willing to wait until the fight was resolved in court. On Monday, Speak for Yourself was pulled from the App Store. This doesn’t mean that current users of the app will suddenly lose their $300 software program. It simply means that no one new can download the app. It also means that there is no way for the developers to update the application at this time. Worst of all, it means that, if someone accidentally loses the app, say they forgot to back it up and it disappears from their device for some reason, they can’t get it back.

It is unfortunate that these kind of antics take place in an industry that is supposed to be helping our kids. Whether one company stole another’s software, or the other just wants to make money by being the only one on the block, children are most at risk for being affected by this.

Techland recently reported on the status of Speak for Yourself and wrote about a mom whose four-year-old daughter uses the app to communicate. The mom in this story, Dana Nieder, keeps a blog where she writes updates on her daughter’s progress. When Speak for Yourself was pulled from the App Store, she wrote,

“For us, this wasn’t an issue of an expensive device versus a “cheap” app. This was an issue of an ineffective device (for Maya) versus an app that she understood and embraced immediately. The only app, the only system, that she immediately adopted as her own way of communicating.

This app is her only voice.

My nephew has a speech disorder. He didn’t say his first word until he was 3-and-a-half years old. His mother once commented that, she wouldn’t mind hearing her son ask “Why?” one hundred times per day if it meant she could hear him say “mommy” for the first time in his life.

While there are other applications, software programs and ways to help children with speech disorders, I can’t imagine the fear that a parent might have at the thought that the one program that has helped them communicate with their child may be taken away from them, their child’s voice, lost.

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About Lory: Writer of all things app related, traveler of the space-time continuum, baker of really great cookies. Follow me @appaholik