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back to article Apple silences mute kids' speech app in patent blowup

Apple is accused of silencing children after its App Store pulled an iPad speech synthesiser that gave mute youngsters a voice. Touchscreen-controlled software Speak For Yourself allowed kids with speech problems to use a picture-based on-screen keyboard to string words into sentences, which were then spoken by their iThing. In …

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Facepalm

Way to go apple - bad to the core!

If you had any kind of compassion in your cold black hearts you would buy the software rights and give it away free with an iPad to families with kids with this condition.

I say to the families that use, or was about to use this app to contact the Bill Gates foundation and ask them for an alternative device. My betting is that uncle Bill would happily put his hand in his pocket.

Once again, can I just say apple are twunts!

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Mushroom

no no no...

Don't pay the b*stards - get the patents invalidated. The articles linked patents have around 130 claims each and filing dates of 1995 & 1997, with a lot of duplication - shouldn't be too hard to get most of them knocked on the head with prior art (e.g. the software redefinable keys are present on lots & lots of devices, from ATMs to phones and even regular keyboards - thems were the days, mucking around with xmodmap). I think there's even a desktop keyboard out nowadays with OLED displays on the keys to display your own customisations. Text-to-speech has been around for donkeys, so I won't go there. The patents seem to describe a way of generating an encoded sequence of symbols which are then synthesised into speech (err, like written words can do, yes?). The "clever" bit is clumping word types into groups represented by a symbol - e.g. "moving verbs" brings up a keyboard with "run", "jump", "walk", etc... Don't a load of old text based RPG things do that by redefining the action associated with integer menu selections?

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Re: no no no...

Software redefinable keys:

Prior art in 1981: The BBC Micro had *KEY which could redefine the F0-F9, Break, Arrow and Copy keys.

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Re: no no no...

Prior art - lexigram keyboards, created for primates to interact with researchers.

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Anonymous Coward

@ukgnome - Apple is doing the right thing here

In my opinion It's not Apple that has a black could heart here, it's the lawyers. Apple is not a charity and surely they are not above the law, especially when their large pockets well lined with green stuff make them an appealing target for IP trolls.

Best part of this story is that it can be taught as a valuable lesson illustrating the real meaning of software freedom. This is what RMS is barking about and nobody bothers to listen. It is not and it has never been about compiling the Linux kernel, it is about using the software to limit end-user freedom. Of course if the parents of that unfortunate little girl are willing to pay for precious Intellectual property, she will have a bright future and the innovation will thrive unhindered.

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For info - statement from Prentke Romich

Posted on June 12, 2012

Last week Prentke Romich Company (PRC) learned that Apple removed a language assistance app from its iTunes® store pending the outcome of a patent infringement lawsuit filed against the company that developed the iPad® app.

PRC and the licensor of the Unity™ system that powers our language devices jointly filed the lawsuit after our patent attorney found numerous instances of infringement on Unity patents in the “Speak for Yourself” app. Apple has a process that allows third parties to provide notice of infringement concerns as part of its terms and conditions. Accordingly, we reached out to Apple on two occasions. We provided Apple with a copy of the lawsuit, expressing our concerns about the “Speak for Yourself” app. We then responded to a later request from Apple asking for an update on the lawsuit. Last week, Apple elected to remove the app.

The Unity system is the result of the long commitment and hard work of Bruce Baker and his company, Semantic Compaction Systems (SCS). His life’s work, which he has refined over decades, created life-changing technology that has given a voice to thousands of individuals with profound disabilities. SCS and PRC filed the patent infringement lawsuit after we reached out to the app company’s founders and offered various business solutions, but were refused.

It is important to emphasize that while there are many useful language apps in the marketplace, “Speak for Yourself” is the only app named in the lawsuit because of its flagrant infringements on Unity patents.

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. The founders of the company marketing this app are speech-language pathologists who were trained by PRC, and who used their knowledge of the Unity system to develop a Unity-like app of their own and market it in the Apple iTunes store.

We do recognize that new consumer technology, such as tablet-based apps, are playing a useful role in assistive technology, although it is unlikely they will be the best option for all clients. We intend to participate in this space but will only do so in a way that supports the best possible language outcomes for those clients with severe communications disorders.

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Re: Apple is doing the right thing here

Bull. Apple is in no danger of legal threats related to this app at this time. Unless and until the courts hand down an injuction they are under no legal obligation to pull any app from the app store. Basically they're doing the job of a patent judge here, which they have no business doing. That's pretty much in line with standard Apple practices, but in this case, where people with a particular handicap are dependant upon the app in question it's particularly insidious.

In short, this was an evil act by a corporation that has become a serial offender

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Re: no no no...

Perhaps something like a Kickstarter campaign to hire a decent patent attorney to fight them?

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Re: For info - statement from Prentke Romich

Does it looks like Prentke Romich Company (PRC) have put their twopenneth in? Anonymous Coward?

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FAIL

@sisk:

Seriously? This is all Apple's fault now, despite their being only the retailer in this case?

Despite PRC making it clear that not only were the offending app's developers fully aware of their dodgy legal position?

To all those who think Apple are in the wrong here: Apple could become liable for damages if the software in question was found to be infringing on valid patents. No, a court does NOT need to make a judgement before this happens. Apple clearly sent out letters asking for clarification of the situation to BOTH parties. It seems clear that they thought the PRC guys may indeed have a legal leg to stand on. (They might be wrong, but it's the corporate lawyer's job to protect their employer, not some random third party.)

Apple didn't invent the US' patent laws, but they DO have to abide by them. Just like every other US citizen and corporation.

Don't like your country's laws? Get off your apathetic arse and get them changed. That's YOUR job. You don't just get to sit there in front of your computer and demand other people and corporations selectively ignore laws you, personally, don't like.

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Anonymous Coward

I think that this is just one more example of the misuse of the copyright/patent laws. People everywhere should put pressure on their government to reform copyright/patent laws so that these laws will be used to accomplish good instead of the current use of these laws as a club to kill competition.

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Anonymous Coward

Just another case of blaming apple for something that's not really apples fault, blame the US and its retarded patent system. Only a bunch of monkeys in suits would think any of this was a good idea, if you don't like it fight to get it fixed.

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'I think that this is just one more example of the misuse of the copyright/patent laws.'

Software patents have nothing to do with copyright.

Perhaps the solution would be to move the company to Europe and release an android app since they can be side-loaded far more easily?

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Childcatcher

Re: For info - statement from Prentke Romich

"Does it looks like Prentke Romich Company (PRC) have put their twopenneth in? Anonymous Coward?"

Blimey, thanks for the downvotes, I just copied and pasted from the company's website as it seemed like it might save people the effort of looking it up themselves.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Anonymous Coward - Apple is a toothless grishna cat

They bang on about their IP but had let the app in question on their app store. Hardly blameless - in most countries harbouring a criminal is a crime itself. They are just covering their arse (but not before taking the usual 30% from the app in question though sales)

The whole thing sounds like some doctors have developed the software (essential a talking flash card) in a manner which is affordable to most people. And another team of richer doctors have taken um-bridge at the fact their expensive version of talking flash cards that they developed a while back is no longer top of the charts.

It Still stinks though

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Re: For info - statement from Prentke Romich

Yeah, but on every level this is all about knee-jerk reactions and condemnations: PRC condemning Speak for Yourself, Apple doing the same and a selection of of us commentards condemning Apple for listening to its lawyers and PRC for bringing the lawsuit (whether justified or not), so the downvotes (whilst completely misdirected) are clearly par for the course in this thread. :)

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Re: @sisk:

"Apple didn't invent the US' patent laws, but they DO have to abide by them. Just like every other US citizen and corporation."

Give them time.

Im sure in the future they will Claim they did invent the Patent laws, find a way to Patent them and then sue the Patent office for daring to use their idea

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yawn

Apple could just drop the pretence and switch to red pointy tails and tridents for all staff. "Bohemian" and "intellectual" people (read soulless and obsessed with primate "display") will still defend them til the end. Honestly, I find it personally insulting that these people are of my species.

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Anonymous Coward

Ok so no more updates

but does that mean that your currently working version no longer will? does it get deleted from your ipad if it has been removed from the app store?

That aside, software patents are still bullshit.

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Re: Ok so no more updates

Nope. If an App gets removed, the people who've got it, get to keep it. But, as the article says, no updates.

I believe Apple do have a remote kill switch, but only to be used on security threats. Although they're obviously subject to court orders, and occasional acts of random whimsy...

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Flame

I hope this backfires on Premtke - and Apple

I almost bought an iPad, just so I could boycott it ....

Software patents are ludicrous anyway, but using them to prop up fleecing the less-abled is stomach churning.

However, a quick look through the Android store shows quite a few free TTS apps, so hopefully people know what do do.

I don't want to go all hippy, but my wife has MS and impaired vision, and the number of FOSS apps available for her Wildfire is humbling - there are a lot of people out there who are starting to make real quality of life improvements.

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The audacity of these people

thinking you could actually charge for something like this and I'm not just talking about apple.

A FLOSS one for android would be good.

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FAIL

Just switch to an alternate app repository

Oh. Wrong operating system. Sorry.

Amazing how fast Apple will bend over rather than stand fast when it suits them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just switch to an alternate app repository

Right, because takedowns couldn't be sent to alternate app repositories... They might as well go into Cydia as it is...

Being restricted to marginal markets is clearly not this company's goal.

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FOSS to the rescue?

Apple are simply protecting themselves, as you'd expect them to do. I have sympathy for the developers of this marvellous application and cannot understand why the patent defense of 'obvious to anyone with a bit of knowledge and imagination' cannot be used. I would think that the target market is not very visible, well known or profitable; hence the dearth of affordable 'solutions'.

Enter FOSS..... A small group of developers should be able to turn out a very nice application along these lines, running on Android or Windows (for general accessibility) and make it available as a free download. (The only 'tricky' bit I can think of is the speech library - but that can be produced by volunteers if a free one isn't available.)

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Re: FOSS to the rescue?

you need to check out the Google voice app ... comes with a massive langauge library ...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FOSS to the rescue?

> The only 'tricky' bit I can think of is the speech library

That's what eSpeak* and Festival are for.

If your app can output text to std out it will talk to these; it's pretty trivial to write a 'push buttan, say noise' app. The difficult bit is assembling the dictionary behind it and making it look good.

* I especially like eSpeak because you can make your software speak English like a butch German woman.

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Re: FOSS to the rescue?

"...you can make your software speak English like a butch German woman."

Whatever appeals to you AC :) For the child-user market, I'd think that the parents (and the children) would prefer a synthesised voice that sounded like a child. It may be possible to do this with clever signal processing or existing library modification. Otherwise you'll need some volunteer children to get speech samples from, to produce a 'better' sounding output from the speech library.

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Anonymous Coward

@frank ly - Re: FOSS to the rescue?

"Obvious to anyone" can be used as a patent defense as Google vs Oracle proved to the world but you need top lawyers and a significant warchest. And as Groklaw is showing in detail, the outcome of patent litigation is not always clear that is way a lot of companies prefer to pay the trolls go away instead of facing dire financial consequences.

As for FOSS, they are also vulnerable to (silly) software patents.

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Re: FOSS to the rescue?

You can tell eSpeak to use any supported MBROLA voice, which sound nicer than the eSpeak voice. You can also alter the pitch and some other attributes, so you could adjust it to sound child-like if you so wished.

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I suppose you could...

Send some kind of FOI request to the company for all the info they have on you giving only a postal address for response.

100k of stamps has to cost quite a bit.

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Bring back RLS passport or not - this exactly the kind of scenario that he forecast...

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@ForgetIt

Robert Louis Stevenson?

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Coat

Wierdly interested in the weather

She must have British genes...

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FAIL

big surorise...

... Apple sides with the firm that gives them a bigger payout on commission. It may still be a whopping THIRTY bloody percent, but the bigger the cost, the bigger the 30%.

And people winder why so many of us hate Apple.

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Re: big surorise...

Actually, Prentke Romich doesn't just make an app. They sell a device that does basically what the iPad app does, and charge extortionate prices for it. For all that money, you get a touchscreen that does what Speak For Yourself does and nothing else. You can buy an iPad and Speak For Yourself for a fraction of the cost of the device and then you have all of the other functionality of the iPad too.

Now that their product has been shown to be limited and overpriced, they have to resort to litigation.

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Re: big surorise...

The company that sued do not have an app. they sell their own hardware. Apple make no money from them. The fail here is you.

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Stop

Re: big surorise...

The firm you are saying Apple are siding with does not provide Apple with any revenue at all, since they produce their own (ridiculously expensive) tablet that only runs their voice software.

I feel for the parents here, but the way they have portrayed this is distasteful. Apple haven't taken anything away from anyone - anyone who has purchased the app still has the app, and if they had synched with itunes, would also have a backup copy of it.

What Apple have done is to pull this app from the app store, so that no new purchasers can buy it. I don't agree with this, they should have waited for a judgement, but the parents (and the reporters) play it as this:

She cannot ask us questions. She cannot tell us that she's tired, or that she wants yogurt for lunch. She cannot tell her daddy that she loves him.

(direct quote from family blog)

Actually she can, as she already has the potentially infringing app and no-one is taking it away from her. The parents real concerns are:

a) They won't get any more updates from the app developer

b) iOS upgrades may make the app not work correctly

Note that neither of these things are guaranteed even if the app was still in the app store. There is no contract that says the app will get updates and fixes, or even compatibility fixes for the next iOS.

If the case is resolved in favour of the app developer, the app would be reinstated in itunes and all these things go away. If it goes the way of the patent holder, the app she has would be proscribed from the app store by the court order.

Either way, she has the app now, will continue to have the app until the end of the court trial at least, and the courts will determine whether the app is available or not after that.

If you want someone to get angry at, try Prentke Romich. They sell a nasty $10k tablet that kids with speech disorders require, bilking your tax dollars (EU) or insurance rates (US). They are the bastards in this story.

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Windows

Re: big surorise...

"If you want someone to get angry at, try Prentke Romich. They sell a nasty $10k tablet that kids with speech disorders require, bilking your tax dollars (EU) or insurance rates (US). They are the bastards in this story."

Yup, a cheap programmable device with touch control is going to disrupt a lot of markets, not just special needs/assistive technology.

Electronic musicians used to pay heaps for one use touch screen tablet controllers and software; now they can just use an iPad. The problem is the patent system providing protection for obsolete technology like this. Roll on rootable tablets with Android/Linux and open programming.

However, this kid is 4. Social and cognitive development time, she has 3 to 4 years of massive synapse connecting and schema forming ahead. These people can't really wait for some long drawn out legal battle....

Worth mentioning that Hawkins has stuck to his legacy tech speech synthesiser because he knows it well and it has become part of his identity. Would that be possible in the future?

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Facepalm

Re: "Hawkins"

It's Hawking, you ignoramus.

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Unhappy

Sometimes, patents disputes make me cry.

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Anonymous Coward

Only sometimes ?

What are those cases you rejoice hearing about ?

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Anonymous Coward

So, today's villain is Apple

Another day, another villain.

The tragedy of the computer business is that there are no goodies.

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Unhappy

All I can say is how pathetic it all is to watch this bunch of supposedly sensible, well educated adults fighting like children while real children have ten times the sense of these morons, and all because of little green bits of paper. Cue Douglas Adams quote.

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Ha Ha!

Now you know why people in the know hate Apple. Welcome to enlightenment

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Sounds quite similar to this...

Researchers were using picture boards with speech synths for animal communication studies as far back as the 1980s. I haven't looked at the detailed wording of the patents, but would this count as prior art? http://www.holah.co.uk/study/savagerumbaugh/

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What's wrong Apple?

Are disabled kids not cool enough to use your products?

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Coat

Re: What's wrong Apple?

"Are disabled kids not rich enough to buy your products?"

There, I fixed it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What's wrong Apple?

The outcome would've more than likely have been the same were the app available on Android, Windows as it is with iOS. It's a cheap shot. Argumentum ad populam is pretty low.

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