back to article iPad app that lets mute kids speak menaced by patent lawsuit

A company that makes specialist talking tablet computers for speech-disabled children has mounted a patent lawsuit which seems set to kill off an iPad app that does the same thing for a tenth of the price. The firm is making no commitment to provide replacement affordable software for consumer devices. Prentke Romich's …

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  1. Darryl

    Hard to sell your ridiculously overpriced hardware solution when somebody can do the same thing on an iPad for a tenth of the price, huh? Better break out the lawyers so you can keep milking the cash cow of parents of disabled kids.

    1. Tegne
      Childcatcher

      It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

      It may be a very emotive subject but someone has infringed on the patent of someone else here.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Take a FSCKING flamethrower to it all

        Software patents are bullshit - we all know it - don't defend it.

        It's bad enough when it cripples and/or makes our little smartyphones and other superfluous gadgets overly expensive, but this is a whole different category of rightly indignant rage.

        They can stuff that patent up their arse.

        1. JDX Gold badge

          Software patents are bullshit - we all know it - don't defend it.

          No, they are often BS, and the system is crappy, but that does not mean the concept of patenting stuff used in software is BS. Investing in R&D for an algorithm is no different than investing in R&D for a physical invention.

          In this particular case, it sounds like BS though. The company issuing the suit should create their own official iPad app and sell it for $500 or something.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Software patents are bullshit - we all know it - don't defend it.

            JDX - there are already copyright and trade secret protections for algorithms. There is also encryption available for compiled software. I'm trying to think of a real world example of where that is inadequate for software and not really coming up with anything...

            In the interest of not throwing the baby out with the bath water, are there any real life examples you can think of for a good and proper software patent? I'm wiling to listen.

            1. JDX Gold badge

              good and proper software patent?

              Wouldn't H264 be a valid case? Creating something like a new codec could be a massive cost in R&D. Therefore licensing it to users seems fair to me. I don't know nuances of H264 specifically, but an original codec seems fair.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: good and proper software patent?

                Good choice, a patent pool wrapped into a popular ISO standard - that's a tough one... but playing Devil's advocate here nonetheless :)

                On the positive side: we have a kinda, sorta, mostly free-for-now (subject to the whims of MPEG LA) very effective codec that is the de facto compression standard and as such enjoys common compatibility across disparate systems, software and devices... without which the world would be deprived of gems like this... and Skype, Netflix, Hulu, etc.

                In the meh column: Without software patent protections potentially H.264 and the associated ISO MPEG standard would never have been created as a published standard. I say this is "meh" because I'm not convinced how solid this case is that *no* alternative would have ever come about.

                In the negative column: The H.264 patents are consistently used to prevent anyone from creating alternative (even completely different/incompatible) compression schemes. The patents grant them a small protected monopoly for their "inventions" and the associated ISO standards have made them ubiquitous. End result: MPEG LA has everyone by the short and curlies if (when?) they decide to start charging for free content in 2015 and, if they were so inclined, do all sorts of dastardly things quite legally. That's AFAIK... anyone know if there are FRAND terms around H.264/MPEG4?

                In my mind the question is... how is this better for us than a world where - for example - clean room implementations of ISO standards, APIs, etc are allowed? Even without H.264 patent protections, I think *something* still would have come along and displaced Real Player. Things definitely would be different... but how different it's tough to say. Maybe we'd be living with 2009-quality internet video here in 2012 instead of where we're at... mebbe?

          2. Chris 3

            Re: Software patents are bullshit - we all know it - don't defend it.

            How dare you come in here with your nuanced arguments.

            RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE

        2. David Kelly 2

          Re: Take a FSCKING flamethrower to it all

          Software is every bit as real as hardware.

          The first PRC Minspeak boxes I saw 20 years ago were almost pure hardware.

      2. Peter Simpson 1
        Facepalm

        Re: It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

        "someone has infringed on the patent of someone else here."

        In a fair world, "someone else" should have their patent invalidated for obviousness. I mean, honestly, a keyboard of symbols that get strung together to form a spoken sentence?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Windrose
          FAIL

          Re: It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

          "I mean, honestly, a keyboard of symbols that get strung together to form a spoken sentence?"

          They better go after Logitech, Microsoft and other keyboard makers, then. THEIR keyboards are exactly the same; it's the information content per symbol that differs.

          I personally find the iPad a useless thing, but hope sincerely that the patent trolls get slapped with a "prior art", and the people who need this app to communicate do not get hindered.

          (Why they didn't put it on the Samsung Note, however, I'll never grasp. IT, at least, is portable as opposed to the iPad)

      3. cs94njw

        Re: It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

        Yep. Totally agree.

        Well, I guess we only need to look to the pharamceutical industry to see patents blocking development. Especially in gene research :/

      4. lotus49
        WTF?

        Re: It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

        And this is a perfect example of why such patents should not exist.

      5. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

        A patent on having a computer say a word when you click on a picture of it? What's the invention? is it not "obvious".

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Tegne

        Are you serious?

      7. vang0gh
        Linux

        Re: It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

        We've seen it time and again - software patents lead to a lot of stupidity. Copyrights, sure. But the software patents don't lead to innovation, they stiffle it.

      8. Mr Lion

        Re: It's not about milking the parents of disabled kids.

        It is indeed a very emotive subject as you correctly point out - but patent is not fundamental fact of the universe, it is an artefact which societies have created to fit their purposes. It is no longer fit for purpose.

        If there were a law which allowed - say - slavery, that would be an inappropriate law. You would, I'm sure, agree that fighting it was appropriate and obeying it was wrong.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      sometimes

      Its about siding with the bad guys against the really bad guys.

      My enemies enemy is my friend.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      if

      They succeed in removing the app I'd throw it open on the web to all comers for free, if they won't let me make any money I sure as hell would stuff them back in the process.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: if

        You realise giving it away for free doesn't stop you getting sued?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: if

          Yes you can still be sued giving it away, it would cost them thousands, in money and goodwill but I would feel good about it and know they would soon be out of business.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >Better break out the lawyers so you can keep milking the cash cow of parents of disabled kids.

      AAC is an entitlement in the UK so its us, not parents, that foot the bill. Its a big bill too ~ easily £10 million PA across health & education.

      Until very recently its been a very nice business for AAC devicers - DynaVox still manage to extract 20-30% of most iOS AAC App revenue thanks to Acapella TTS as iOS has no public TTS API [really it doesn't]. Don't kid yourself its a low volume niche either - eg Proloquo To Go is an all-time top grossing App.

      Most AAC companies are either radically refocussing on software or looking at the wall writing, not a surprise the latter group are digging out Patents from the knickers drawer.

  2. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    Toys out of the pram...

    Looks like the first party has been selling at over inflated prices for years and wants to continue doing so for many years to come.

    However, $299 for a point and speech interface is taking the mickey too...

    1. g e

      Re: Toys out of the pram...

      Only taking about 10% of the mickey, mind you :o)

      Actually, thinking about it, isn't there some kind of customisable soundboard app for tablets that would do 85-90% of the same, anyway ?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Toys out of the pram...

      I agree. It's essentially a soundboard that can change someone's life. When someone can knock up a swearatron for free on the interwebs, how can $299 be considered reasonable?

      Taking advantage of the disadvantaged.

      1. aj87

        Re: Toys out of the pram...

        Precisely what I was thinking when I came into the comments section.

        Could probably knock this up in an afternoon. TTS is the hard part and its already done.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Toys out of the pram...

        You're missing the point. A mass-market iPad app sells thousands and thousands of copies so $2.99 is fine. If only a few people buy it you still have to spend the same amount of work creating it therefore the price is higher.

        That's why niche software costs more, basic economics really. The ultimate case being bespoke software where you have one customer who pays $100k.

        1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

          Re: Toys out of the pram...

          No, I understand the concept very well. However, being a developer myself I can price the cost of development for an App. If someone spent months writing that App they are either not a good programmer or are very new to Objective C. I doubt the requirement catalog for the App even ran to one page.

          And for what it's worth, there are similar apps in the store for $10-$30.

          1. JDX Gold badge

            Re: Toys out of the pram...

            Hmm, this whole thread seems like a conversation with a non-technical manager. "What do you mean it'll take months, it's just a bunch of buttons. How long can it take to make a button?"

            And if it's $299 how do you know what the app does to see what it would involve?

          2. jonathanb Silver badge

            Re: Toys out of the pram...

            The skill here is in laying the buttons out on the screen and designing the pictures for them, not the technical wizardry that happens when you press one of them. In any case, I believe iOS has a TTS engine, certainly Android has one. If not, they could licence one pretty cheaply or hire some actors to record the words.

            In terms of the technical stuff, you could supply a load of mp3s with file names matching the word that is recorded and play them in iTunes to put together your sentence. That's why I don't think it should get a patent.

      3. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Toys out of the pram...

        I guess you need to pay an artist to draw all the pictures, and that costs something.

    3. dotdavid
      WTF?

      Re: Toys out of the pram...

      $299? Woah, that is ridiculous. I read it as $2.99 :-\

      I'm somewhat less sympathetic now. Half-tempted to knock up a free clone, to be honest.

    4. Gary F

      Re: Toys out of the pram...

      The app was created by qualified therapists I presume. Months of their time and expertise must have been spent working on this drawing on all of their experience. Is that worth nothing?

      Likewise if anyone puts their own expertise into a project are they not entitled to make a living in return or does everyone have to work for free to satisfy the iPad/Android consumers who are far too used to paying nothing for 1000's of existing apps, or a few $ for other apps.

      The speech app is a specialist program and is already 10x cheaper than the nearest thing. The therapists could have paid an experienced developer for several months of work to create the app, plus they could have taken 6 months off from their day job to produce it. So their investment could easily be $150,000. That will double/triple now they have to get a lawyer involved!

      I say let them earn their money because it sounds like they deserve it. Just ask the parents who are no doubt overjoyed that their purchase (the price of a few speech therapy lessons) has effectively "unlocked" their children and given them new freedom to communicate - any ability that most people take for granted.

      Software developers shouldn't have to work for free or a few quid. A lot of us are qualified and highly experienced professionals with mortgages and other loans to pay, children to feed and clothe, and many freelance or self-employed developers don't even have pensions, and sometimes there can be weeks or months of zero-income while waiting to see if they get another contract.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Toys out of the pram...

      It's not just a 'point and speech interface'.

      Guys here seem to be forgetting that not all the value in a piece of software comes from the technical difficulty in executing its infrastructure (shocking, I know!). In this case, the value obviously doesn't come from the difficulty of pushing on a picture and having the iPad respond.

      People seem to think that because most iPad apps are two bucks, this should be too. Nuh-uh. Consider:

      1) Quantity. Fartmaker 3 has a potential audience of all the idiots who own iPads. That's a lot. How many people have children with speech problems *and* have iPads? You can get 100% market share and you're not going to be on any top-100 lists. Suppose you sold this for two bucks and there are 200,000 potential customers out there, and every single one buys it. Now you've got 400,000.. wait, there's Apple's take; now you've got $280,000... wait, there's federal and state corporate taxes; now you've got $182,000... $182,000 to pay all your people, pay for your offices, handle support for 200,000 people who all have young children with a difficult disability, pay for legal, AND pay for development of the next major release. So that $182,000 has to get you through the next two years, say, pay for all of the above, AND pay to develop the next version.

      For which you'll get half the money, since everyone already has version one.

      Ready to sign up? You're *damned* lucky to be able to run a business with a few people on less than a million a year gross, and that's at a really high profit margin. $299 per copy is nearly starvation money; a tenth that would be suicide.

      2) Functionality. It's not about pressing buttons and making sound. It's about knowing which icons to use, how to present them and in what order and location on the screen, knowing how a child will try to interact with them, and so forth. You don't just go QWERTY and hit Control-S. And if you get it wrong, you run the risk of screwing up a kid's ability to interact in this way.

      3) Documentation. FartMaker 3 costs a dollar, but it hasn't got a manual, and doesn't need one. If it did, the consequences would be a non-issue if it was incorrect. The documentation for something like this needs to be accurate, comprehensive, and well-organized - something that's not easy even for simple things. If you want to hire a technical writer to do it (and there are good reasons to do this) you're looking at a minimum of five k. And again, if you get it wrong, you genuinely harm people rather than just pissing them off because a bug prevents them from getting to level 39.

      4) Support. FartMaker 3 really doesn't require any customer support. It farts or it doesn't. This software's success or failure is hard to quantify, and support is essential; if the support is bad, again, people and their kids actually suffer for real. You can't (or shouldn't) screw around with it. Charging somebody $100 less and then being unable to help them use what they bought does neither of you any good.

      5) Legal. FartMaker 3 is disgusting, but you're unlikely to be sued because of it. Make medical software, and all it takes is one nutball family (or one bad mistake on your part) and you're in deep doodoo.

      This isn't some photo processing app or word processor or compiler or video game. Its development takes rare expertise (despite its technical difficulty being low), its correct operation affects the health of children, and it aims at a very small market. $299 is a chunk of change, to be sure, but I don't know that it'd be possible to do something like this for less (assuming you want to stay in business).

      The guys selling $10,000 'video enlargers' for the legally blind, that essentially consist of a web cam, a tripod, and some shitty software? Rat bastards. The guys who sell a clunky, out-of-date tablet with (most likely) legacy-hell software for $7,500? Rat bastards. The guys developing a new piece of software, at high risk, for an inexpensive platform, at 1/5th the price, and that price being one that may not keep them fed let alone make them rich? *Not* rat bastards.

      Assuming that Speak For Yourself should be $3.00 (or whatever) just because it's on the iPad is like seeing that PhotoShop costs much more than The Sims 3, and declaring in outrage that PhotoShop is an unconscionable ripoff (no jokes about Adobe software, please; you know what I mean).

      Please, consider the background of the situation when you see "$299", rather than disengaging your brain and letting your knees jerk.

      1. CJ Bill
        Thumb Up

        Re: Toys out of the pram...

        @David. W: you've hit the nail on the head.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Andrew Moore

      If I could do it for $29.99 I would. There you go. Michael Taken. :)

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Speak For Yourself's $299 app

    And I suspect "Speak For Yourself" will be suing when somebody makes a free app that does the same thing

    1. Old Handle

      Re: Speak For Yourself's $299 app

      Yeah, I'd have alot more sympathy for them if their app wasn't so expensive. While its clearly a specialized application with a fairly narrow market, it doens't really look that complicated.

  5. Christoph Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Place your bets

    How long do you reckon it will take before the wave of complaints buries them and they decide they were 'quoted out of context' or some equally obvious management-speak attempt at a get-out?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tough one...

    The whole point of the patent system is to reward the years of hard work and massive investment needed to invent something decent with a monopoly so you get to reap the benefits. It's up to you how you reap that, whether you produce crappy hardware for a scandalous fee or an overpriced soundboard app for a mere moderately scandalous sum, the point is it's your invention to do with as you please for a few years.

    Which is brilliant in theory. Not so brilliant when it hits this 3-year-old kid. Or when it's a pharmaceuticals company that's spent a billion developing a new AIDS drug, and sells the drug at a high price so they can make that money back.. while millions in africa die because they can't afford the drug, and another company gets sued out of existence for manufacturing the same drug for a few pennies and selling it to africans.

    There's no right answer unfortunately. Stop the patents, and people don't spend billions inventing new drugs or disability tools, everyone suffers. Keep them, and the rich minority benefit from an inferior product while the 3 year old is denied the ability to communicate.

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Re: Tough one...

      But there is an argument (which I am not neccesarily making, just highlighting) that to obtain a patent, something must be "innovative". The problem with the minspeak is it wasn't really innovative. A point which is underscored by the fact that with very little effort, someone was able to duplicate it's functionality with off-the-shelf hardware, and a little bit of software.

      With tablets, smartphones, and things like the Raspberry Pi flooding the market, any piece of kit which relied on a dedicated computer is at risk, if all the "innovation" was to ruggedize it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tough one...

        Lots of stuff is obvious once somebody's done it. The test is whether it's innovative at the time it was patented. A lot of the "what? But it's so obvious!" patents people criticise weren't obvious at all back when they were patented. Problem is, 5 years later it's totally obvious, and the market gets held back because somebody patented it.

        They say all patents are invalid when they're issued too, that's the other issue. The patent office just does a rough check, then leaves it to the courts to narrow it down to the bare bones of what's actually valid and patentable (or nothing at all in a lot of cases). A small company like this can't afford to do that though.

  7. adnim Silver badge
    WTF?

    Prior art?

    I seem to remember when I was a teenager some kind of English language teaching aid that had picture cards that slid into/onto the surface of a plastic box. When an image on the card was pressed a very synthetic voice or poor quality sample said the word associated with the picture. Now if i could only remember the name of this device.

    If I stick a picture of an ice cream on one of the keys of my midi keyboard and set it to play a sample of me saying ice cream I breach some copyright or patent?

    I think I could knock something like speak for yourself up in a week or two using my own sampled voice and some images, I would give it away just for the kudos and good feeling. $299 is plain extortion.

    Somethings really should be free or at most sold for cost.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Prior art?

      If you can remember the name send it to the app's developer - it might help them get the patent declared invalid. Probably not, but every patent invalidated is a victory for us all :)

      Then again, it costs *MASSIVE* amounts of money to dispute a patent, especially in the US. We're talking $50k to just go to court, potentially millions to seriously fight it. Most likely the dev will roll over or be bankrupted. Or both. The american patent system is an absolute disaster for smaller companies, they can't afford to play and just get fucked, guilty or not :(

      1. steward
        Go

        Re: Prior art?

        Anyone who's used an iPad knows it's prior art - it's the pattern tag in text entry HTML, which implements a dynamic keyboard (in iPad's case, used for changing the keyboard around for web and email addresses.)

      2. JDX Gold badge

        every patent invalidated is a victory for us all

        No it isn't. It's not a victory for those of us who pour our own money into R&D for new products and want to avoid someone reverse engineering it and selling it for half the price!

        1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

          Re: every patent invalidated is a victory for us all

          Go cry me a river. Do you think moviemakers get annoyed when a rival releases a very similar movie just days before your own is about to hit the cinemas?

          Software is already protected by Copyright. Software patents serve no logical purpose other than to make lawyers fatter. In case you hadn't noticed, the EU doesn't recognise software patents, and for good reason. Strangely enough, the software development industry over here has failed utterly to implode as a result of this policy.

          If it's algorithms you wish to protect, I have to ask: Why? From a programming perspective, an algorithm is merely "an idea". Everyone can have ideas; you can only copyright an execution of that idea. Why do you consider it fair to prevent any other companies doing R&D in the same field from benefiting from their work? If you're that reliant on R&D alone, you're doing it wrong.

          Apple didn't invent the tablet form-factor or the basic concept of a smart phone, yet they're creaming most of the available profits in both those markets. Why? Because Apple sweated the user experience—all those fiddly little details most programmers look down their nose at as being beneath them. ("Real men use a command-line!") And which most of Apple's competitors still—despite the mind-boggling amount of ignorance this demonstrates—don't appear to have grasped either.

          Details matter. Implementation matters. Execution matters. An idea is only ever as good as its implementation.

          The purpose of patents and copyrights is to provide limited monopolies. A full-blown monopoly is dangerous. It kills the business sector, razing competitors to the ground, despite the merits (or otherwise) of their offerings, leaving it a desolate, barren desert of a market, with no choice at all.

          Technology moves so quickly, it's idiotic to waste time buggering around with the slow purgatory of patent lawyers and the USPTO. By the time a mere software algorithm has been formally filed, accepted, challenged, defended in a courtroom, then lost through a prior art demonstration, the market will have moved on. Meanwhile, the lawyers (and USPTO) will have all been paid their fat fees and commissions.

          Software patents do not exist for the benefit of businesses. They exist solely for the benefit of lawyers. They are an obstacle to business.

          1. JDX Gold badge

            Re: every patent invalidated is a victory for us all

            An algorithm is not "just an idea". The work is not all in the implementation... for instance if you were working on an image compression algorithm 90+% of the work would be in the algorithm which involves hard computer science and mathematics. Implementing it is just following a list of instructions.

            Unless your work involves creating new algorithms, I don't think you're placed to say how hard it is to create them. "Just an idea" only shows your ignorance... people spend their life's work creating algorithms.

            1. tapanit
              Boffin

              Re: every patent invalidated is a victory for us all

              Algorithms are indeed often really hard to create. The hard part is usually mathematics. Which isn't patentable either, as you probably know, and for a good reason.

              That something is hard to do and should be rewarded doesn't mean patents are a good way of doing so. (Quite a lot of seriously hard mathematics has been created without patents.)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ JDX

          The only way to win is not to play.

          Don't pure money into bottemless buckets?

      3. Richard 15

        Re: Prior art?

        Prior art possible?

        http://www.greattalkingbox.com/

  8. jai

    something like FRAND but for medical or assistive inventions?

    There should be something like FRAND then, whereby an invention that is so obviously of benefit to unfortunate, disabled and kids, should be forced to be licensed at very reasonable rates. Something like this is for the greater good of the species*, surely, not just to line some one's wallet with cash. Instead of being able to shut down the company making the iPad software, they should at least be able to license it at a reasonable level.

    Am sure they'll sell 50 of these apps for every one of the hardware that gets sold. So a 5% license fee would provide them the same income.

    *Darwinian views of survival of the fittest and most eloquent aside....

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: something like FRAND but for medical or assistive inventions?

      The only trouble is, you say that GloboMegaCorp must license drugs cheaply to copycat firms, and you find that it's no longer profitable for GloboMegaCrop to make drugs against AIDS or TB, and they make another Viagra instead.

      There's no money in inventing medicines for third-world problems. Therefore who spends the money to invent them in the first place?

      1. Velv Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: something like FRAND but for medical or assistive inventions?

        There's a balance to be had somewhere between the two. There are plenty of drugs that are now licensed cheaply as the inventor has made a reasonable profit long before the end of the patent.

        Balance. Balance and FRAND. For something like this, it sounds like (pun) licensing the patent cheaply to hit a mass market is the way to go. So you as the owner don't sell as much hardware - if the idea sells, then the hardware is over-priced. This won't just help those with problems, this has the potential to sell to millions of parents who want to encourage their offspring to communicate.

        I would however suggest someone goes and looks at the footage of humans communicating with animals (chimps, dolphins, etc). It used changeable boards with symbols...

      2. Keep Refrigerated
        WTF?

        Re: @DavCrav

        Some people may have this ridiculous notion that GloboMegaCorp shouldn't be the one investing in medical research in the first place. That it should be a government that does this - so that no-one is left without treatment (because certain rare diseases are deemed unprofitable to research a cure)...

        Of course this not the American way I describe, it's a dirty communist ideal that must be avoided at all costs... just like those communist police forces and communist fire departments.

        That's why I say we should privatise the police and the fire departments and let them compete on the market. Of course fire departments would have to stop spending as much time putting out fires on buildings and homes that aren't worth that much. That way they'd have more time to focus on more profitable firefighting from those that can afford them.

        1. JDX Gold badge

          Re: @DavCrav

          OK, except it costs £billions and ultimately someone has to pay for it... either the sick people using it or everyone else through taxes.

        2. KroSha
          Mushroom

          Re: @DavCrav

          or, as TP notes, you'll get private "Thermal Management" companies doing house calls making comments like "Oooh, very flammable looking place, this. I bet it'd go up with one carelessly dropped match, y'know what I mean?" Paying firemen based on how many fires they put out is *a bad thing*.

  9. Andy Christ

    Wah!

    Nobody's going to take away this child's app. Apple's policy is that once purchased it is yours to keep, even if removed from the App Store. The only little snag of course is that others in the future will not be able to purchase it, nor will it receive updates if this suit is successful.

  10. James 51 Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    $299!

    If it costs $299 I think it deserves to be called an application rather than an app.

  11. Hayden Clark Silver badge
    Unhappy

    For another example of revenue protection,

    Google "Pixid Whiteboard photo".

    Originally sold by Pixid for about $50. Pixid was bought by a printing whiteboard company (PolyVision), and the price immediately increased to $250.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Always been the case, stuff for the disabled, blind, deaf etc. has always been vastly overpriced for what they are.

    Just take a look at the membrane keyboards out there that'll take a paper insert - basically a cheap usb peripheral but costs hundreds.

    Same with this. the original, sold for purpose device costs thousands when it shouldn't cost any more than a few hundred. The ipad app costs hundreds when it shouldn't cost any more than a few pounds.

    Actually, as much as I am annoyed by the device developer trying to claim patent infringement on the ipad app, I am more annoyed by the developers of the ipad app for just continuing the practice of ripping vunerable people off by asking so much for the app in the first place.

    Come on, this is a simple soundboard using off the shelf speech synthesis and user configurable symbols.

    Would be great if, because of this, some far better developments came to market doing all this can for the price of most other ios apps if not for free.

    Any ios developers here? Someone do a generic app based on a generic TTS engine. You supply the images and the text behind them and "program" it for whatever purpose you want.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      As I said above, prices are higher because the market is smaller. You have to make far more per unit to cover your costs.

  13. vincent himpe
    Joke

    Oh no, they are going to block Talking Tom too

    After all that is also a display of pictures that, when pressed in a particular way, speaks sentences... And then there's the giraffe, and the ladybug , and Ben the dog and all those others...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    '...planning to participate in a way that will provide solutions that focus on client outcomes.'

    Just writing an article about business jargon and this falls into my lap. Nice one.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    not quite the same...

    between a new drug patent and this.

    A pharmaceutical company spends a fortune, identifying potential chemicals/delivery systems for a treatment, determining synthetic methods for them, testing them on cell-cultures, animals, humans etc. The process takes years. Once a drug has been patented, a rival can analyse and reproduce the drug in a fraction of the time and with very little investment. Patents here are essential in order that companies continue to identify new cures.

    This article is about a programmable keyboard - if memory serves didn't the ZX81 have programmable function keys?

    If the iPad app was simply a port of the same software, or the keyboard worked exactly the same I could sympathise, but this is clearly protectionism at its worst.

    Time the world stopped allowing patenting of ideas (especially obvious ones).

    1. Colin Miller

      Re: not quite the same...

      > This article is about a programmable keyboard - if memory serves didn't the ZX81 have

      > programmable function keys?

      There is an ANSI and/or VT100 escape sequence to remap a computer keyboard.

  16. Mike Brown

    this is fairly easy to fight

    "Prentke says a dynamic keyboard of symbols"

    the ipad dosent have a keyboard. just because it has a screen that can display a picture of a keyboard dosent mean its a keyboard. their patent is for a physical board with keys. Not this. If i was the app maker, id tell this company to STFU.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: this is fairly easy to fight

      Probably right, the court would have to decide whether the original meaning of 'keyboard' included touch screens or not. Easy enough, apart from the million+ in legal fees they need to get it that far ;)

      1. Mike Brown

        Re: this is fairly easy to fight

        well yeah. thats the real issue involved with patents huh? its not the idea that people can fight, or can use them to "extort" money, its the fact that even if you are in the right you may not have enough money to fight your corner.

        what is needed is a seperate legal system for patents. one that is free, and is unbiased towrad those with money. Like an obudsman.

  17. qwarty

    penalties for daft patents like this

    How about a change to the system so if a patent is found invalid, the company responsible should be liable for the cost of reviewing all their other patents in related fields for validity too. Or place in public domain, owners choice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: penalties for daft patents like this

      That'd be a perfect way to assure that small companies would never take the risk of applying for a patent - and thus defeating a large part of the purpose of patents in the first place.

      You can be damn sure that, as a small entrepreneur, I'd take the risk of spending $10k getting a patent - which will, by definition, not be as rock-solid as one that you pay a whole form $100k to work on - and risk being put out of business and indebted for the rest of my natural life when F500 Company N's lawyers challenge it successfully. It'd be folly.

  18. HelenaHandcart

    The reason that assistive technology - and other equipment for people with disabilities - tends to be expensive is because the market is small. The fewer units that you can sell the higher the price has to be because the overheads are distributed less widely. Often, the actual product cost is relatively low which is why products can seem disproportionately expensive; we know it doesn't cost that much to make. However, although the manufacturing cost per unit is pretty much the same no matter how many you produce, the overhead cost per unit is greater if you expect sell 10 units than if you expect to sell 10,000.

    1. AdamT

      A very good point. And I think all the "armchair experts" above are also missing the point that there is probably more to this than "just a keyboard with a bunch of pictures on it". My first thought, as an obviously more expert armchair expert <grin>, was this is more like the kind of thing Stephen Hawking uses. e.g. that the whole keyboard is dynamic and changes in response to the sentance you are trying to construct. If so then clearly there is some considerable professional expertise (from the speech therapists) and development costs (in both software and hardware) to recoup and this could well be a case of the patent system actually doing what it is supposed to do.

    2. druck
      Thumb Down

      "The reason that assistive technology - and other equipment for people with disabilities - tends to be expensive is because the market is small."

      And more importantly there are government subsidies, and laws mandating that people with disabilities are given access to this equipment. This allows the manufacturers to raise the price to way beyond what their users would be able to afford themselves, and make a tidy profit from the tax payer.

      Some of the assistive technologies such as screen readers for the blind are vastly more complex than speaking when a button is pushed, having to provide full audio navigation of a vast number of off the shelf software packages. Due to the screen reader's low level integration into the OS, they require continuous development to work around changes to the OS every time a service pack or hot fix is released. But even these don't cost as much as the cheapest Prentke devices.

  19. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Android version coming soon

    for free?

    I certainly hope so - this should be a first year programming exercise and not charged for let alone be patentable.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's the originality?

    In the '80s the BBC Micro + Concept keyboard were widely used for disabled people. Speech synthesis was also available at the time : did no-one put it together to do what this product does? It would have been a pretty trivial exercise.

    The only distinction I can see is in the use of a touch screen.

  21. nsld

    speak and spell?

    Didnt Texas Instruments do exactly the things in this patent along with V tech and some of its spelling and speech gadget things for kids?

    This does smack of protectionism by the incumbent provider, they would have done an App by now except they couldnt justify the outrageous prices they charge for the units they currently sell.

  22. Ian Ferguson
    Unhappy

    I used to work in the assisted technology field

    The lack of innovation was mindboggling. The same outdated software and hardware solutions were being sold a decade after their invention.

    The main reason for this was lack of sales to fund R&D. Assisted Technology has a tiny target market, and one solution may be all a customer requires in their entire lifetime. Prices for most solutions matched; despite their obvious datedness.

    This has resulted in several stifling patents; generally you'll find exactly one highly priced product per solution, and aggressive defence of their niche market.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    THIS IS DISGUSTING

    THESE PEOPLE SHOULD FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF APPLE AND LIGHTEN UP ON SUING JUST BECAUSE YOU OWN THE PATENT

    1. SJRulez

      WTF - Fanbois

      What planet are you living on, Apple currently has more than a dozen legal spats with people including the slide to unlock patent.....

  24. dmck

    I saw something like this in 1988.

    The 'pictures' were on a wall and a BBC Micro and a joystick thingy was used to highlight each of the 'pictures'.

  25. Leo Maxwell
    Devil

    The trouble with patents

    Is that there seems to be no due diligence in exposing prior art.

    Often companies license because it is cheaper than fighting.

    Look at the guy who patented yellow beans, and then sued someone who had been importing them into the US for 20 years.

    Often there is loads of prior art, but it is simply ignored by the big companies, who also tend to ignore patents belonging to smaller companies.

    Dyson couldn't sell his ideas for a bagless vacuum cleaner, so he built a company to sell them, now all the companies who turned him down are selling Dyson ripoffs.

    The patent is now so devalued as to be almost worthless unless you can afford a top lawyer.

    I hope Barnes and Noble stuff MS.

  26. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Your health insurance pays for it (ha ha ha)

    The dedicated hardware MAY be less breakable than an iPad.

    Assistive technology is very, very expensive. But here's a tip. Games technology is only "rather" expensive. If a game controller can do what you want an assistive product to do, you can save a lot of money.

    http://aramedia.com/123speak.htm will sell you "just the software" for $1000 and I suppose you put it on a Dell Latitude ST or something. Their patents are from 1995. So does that mean it ends in 2015?

    Alternatively, Windows Explorer icons for a set of audio-visual files would do most of the job. Queue them up in your favourite media player, the playlist becomes a spoken sentence.

    Or, set it up on Youtube, or Myspace - any web site like that will probably do.

    It's a tricky problem - what if people can replicate your patented idea using ubiquitous computing tools and common sense. I suppose you can still sue... join the MPAA.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thanks.

      This is the secret. People don't need companies to scam them. They don't need companies at all. They can get by just fine. If a company wants your money, it's a two way relation ship. They have to earn your money. Else you go for free alternatives.

  27. dm1
    Unhappy

    Poblem: Mixing 3 issues into one: patents, prices and who finances medical care

    There is a problem in the arguments of several posts: we are mixing discussions on patents/price with a discussion on who should finance care for the frail.

    If we want medical care/medicines/devices to be accesible to those with relatively rare diseases, where available treatment can be expensive, then the solution is a government subsidy.

    Once we sorted that out, managing issues about patents and costs are easier: cost of developing medical products is very high (even if the application seems minor, validating it can be very expensive), you need inventing new treatments to be profitable (or no one will do it), and there are provisions for compulsory licenses if a population is in need.

    If the government is the one being ripped off with the weapon of a threatened patent litigation based in vaporware -likes it seems the case here-, Gov can throw its resources against the patent holder and force price competition.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A little innovation!

    The app developers can get out of mess by changing the input method. Th major concern is the term "keyboard" so to get away with it you can use some kind of flicking mechanism using scroll wheels (remember how easy it is now to set date and time on smartphone) or something in lines of panorama/pivot control, basically minimise the role of key placeholders and use other dynamic UI elements.

    and a $200 price tag is reasonable as there will always be 100 times more people buying a $2 Talking Animal app.

    BUT $2000 is BS

  29. jubtastic1
    Thumb Down

    Knee jerk reaction

    What bastards.

    On the other hand, the reason the existing tablet & software is so expensive is because it's really expensive to make a custom tablet when you're only going to sell thousands of them rather than the multimillions Apple is selling, this company is basically paying prototype pricing, and they're going to have to charge enough to stay afloat while they slowly sell.

    But on the other other hand, that was then, when there wasn't a cheap tablet they could sling an app on, they've sat on their arses for 3 years now when they could have been implementing a new software business that would have seen them through these interesting times.

    This horse has well and truly bolted, their current business plan is terminal, the only thing they have right now they can build on is their brand and this legal action just totally fucked that.

    Stupid bastards.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More people should be told about this!

    This needs to become a big news story so that those involved can get justice. I'd hope if more people are involved, those with ulterior motives will have less ability to force a good willed developer from helping people with disabilities.

    I don't know if it would help, but I would just:

    1) Redefine the "keys" as "areas of input" and rejig the code to reflect this.

    2) Redefine the "ability to redefine keys" as "ability to reprogram input" and change the code to reflect this.

    3) Tell the company trying to sue me to take a long walk, preferably off a cliff. :P

  31. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Prior art

    REPEAT

    INPUT A$

    OSCLI "SAY "+A$

    UNTIL FALSE

    1. RAMChYLD
      Boffin

      Re: Prior art

      And suddenly I'm scouting eBay for a Speak and Spell.

  32. dannymot

    How on earth can you patent buttons doing what buttons do?

    Creating a bunch of buttons with pictures and symbols on is only an extended version of a menu system in practically every computer game or mobile phone OS.

    Allowing the user to create their own buttons is a part of the development environments of practically every programming language.

  33. tybalt

    How is this different from a patent that protects a pharmaceutical product?

    Company X spends a load of money developing a technology to meet a medical need. They get a patent on it after a due process of examination so no-one can take a short cut, copy their work and undercut them.

    Company Y comes along, copies Company X's product (possibly improving it into the bargain), and markets it at a much reduced price.

    Company X sues company Y for infringement. Company Y is free to argue that the patent is invalid as a counterclaim.

    If the patent is valid, then company Y f*cked up. If it's not inventive, company Y will win in court anyway.

    Seems like the system is working as it should to me, unless you just want to chuck patents out of the window. Good luck with maintaining Western economies in the face of the ensuing flood of cheap knock-offs from China/India etc. Our "knowledge economies" are predicated on the ability to protect IP. If there were no-such protections, a company like Foxconn could cut out the middleman and just start flogging iPads directly.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At a stroke

    Nobody here has a family member (or knows anybody) who has lost the power of speech after a stroke? Nobody?

    What's special about this app that makes it for kids learning to talk and not for grown ups who knew about language (well, probably about English - does this work in other languages?), grown ups who are, at least for the time being, unable to make verbal use of this language? Does it do construction of correct sentences as well as 'simple' text to speech for each picture, for example? Does the difference even matter? Or are the commentards all ranting even more cluelessly than usual?

    Anyone out there know of anything out there that might fit the description of point and click for someone with no speech after a stroke?

    Is $300 a fair price? Or $30?

  35. Mr. Fatuous

    Prior Art:?

    Does the old computer game Captain Blood count as prior art? That had an image based conversation system.

  36. John F***ing Stepp

    "We are going to need a bigger shark. . ."

    But Bountyquest seems to have died so finding and pointing out prior art(1) (as in smoky cave paintings from prehistory) is only an exercise for outraged people.

    About three years from now this is going to be a non issue.

    Microsoft has this really dandy device(2) that responds to gestures; they (unlike others) don't seem to have a problem with open source hacks. Rumor has it that the device will eventually be refined to the point where it will be able to read lips (hello HAL) and I can see where this will eventually lead to a nice predictive speech enabler (3)

    Software patents are always fighting that end run, as just finding a permanent cure for some disease does really affect profit on any higher priced pharmaceutical that just treats the symptom.

    There does, by the way, seem to be a lot of Open Source stuff out there that is doing about the same thing.

    (1) Prior art, this was done for dogs once using a typewriter keyboard (no joke).

    (2) Kinect

    (3) Google "ducking pizza ship" for another opinion.

  37. SJRulez

    Date expired?

    Had a read of those patents and they date back to 1987 and 1985, surely those are now expired. My understanding was the patent lasts approximately 20years.

  38. raizor

    Hard to feel sorry for the developers when they're charging $299 for this. I know the market is probably very small, but the development of this software could hardly be classed as altruistic.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    +1 for David W.'s monologue

    I am a software developer, and have had my brain rewired - not due to watching Matrix, but due to a traffic accident. Drink was involved; unfortunately not by me.

    As part of ongoing therapy, I have to use a specific (and rather expensive) software program that is meant to improve cognitive functioning and working memory. It has been of value; however, the interface is complete shite - and hence is beyond the ability of many others at the same loony bin^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H facility to use.

    I have thought about writing an alternative version, and started on some specs. The UI is easy to improve. The logic behind the lessons is not. It is apparent that input from people with experience in neurology and therapy is required. Otherwise it is electronic snake oil.

    So while it looks easy to drag a few buttons or tiles around, getting the appropriate interaction right so that it benefits the user who has limitations most of us just cannot comprehend is not.

    The 'Speak For Yourself' app was developed by two speech therapists, who would have brought their experience in this field to bear on the program. They deserve to be compensated for their time, and $299 is but a minor cost compared to many others that a family with disabled children or TBI-damaged members must endure. And if it improves the life of child, then so much the better (following a meme here).

    Anonymous, except to GCHQ and my local council, for obvious reasons.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: +1 for David W.'s monologue

      "David W.'s monologue"

      Yeah, I have a tendency to do that. It's the problem with being able to type very fast. I think too much, I think too fast, I type too fast, and I type too much.

      When I'm very wealthy, I'll hire a personal editor, who will use a computer beside mine to shorten my Reg posts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: +1 for David W.'s monologue

        Don't forget the PA as well, David.

        Your points were valid.

  40. Jonathan Richards 1
    Megaphone

    The point of the patent system

    @Chris, back a page, and several others.

    I think people believe the point of the patent system is to arrange a revenue stream for inventors. It's not. Repeat: that's NOT why the state grants you a monopoly on the practice of your invention.

    The state grants you that monopoly in return for full disclosure of your invention. That's where the benefits of patents are. We're meant to learn from them. Indeed patent lawyers speak of patents "teaching" such and such an invention.

    Revenue from licensing is incidental to the purpose of patents: they're meant to foster progress.

    1. tybalt

      Re: The point of the patent system

      Have you perhaps considered that the two aims are not incompatible?

      The patent system is intended to both reward innovation by allowing exclusivity for a limited time, and to ensure that innovations are made available by requiring a disclosure that enables others to work the invention after the end of the limited time.

  41. wahwahwahwah
    Stop

    Captain Blood

    The video game Captain Blood from 1988 has a symbol based keyboard communicating meaning to aliens:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Blood_(video_game)

    Is that prior art?

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