Google Follows Apple In Unnecessarily Pulling App That Allowed A Little Girl To Speak

from the sad dept

We've written a few times about the unfortunate saga of 4-year-old Maya Nieder and her mother, Dana. Due to a ridiculous patent dispute, the one thing that allows Maya to speak -- an app called "Speak for Yourself" -- may get shut down. Back in June we were disappointed that, despite no request for an injunction, Apple decided to pull the app in question from its iOS store, citing the ongoing lawsuit. Maya can continue to use it for now, but it could go away and they wouldn't be able to get it back. Many people in our comments suggested that SfY should release an Android app. And they did... but a recent update from Dana notes that Google removed the app from its Play store as well, per the request of Prentke Romich Company & Semantic Compaction Systems (the patent holder and licensee suing SfY). While it's much easier to install 3rd party apps on Android devices without going through the Play Store, it's still surprising and disappointing that Google would join Apple in pulling this app before there's been any official ruling on the matter.

In the meantime, Dana also points out that PRC -- who didn't have an iOS app itself through all of this -- has finally released one in the iTunes store. Even though this seems ridiculous -- since they were able to shut down the competition and now have a clearer playing field -- Dana celebrates this entrance into the market because making more of these apps available can only help speech-challenged people speak. And, in the end, shouldn't that be the overriding concern?

She also mentions that the two sides met for court-ordered mediation, and asked the court to stay the case for 30 days to continue the process. So there's some hope for a settlement allowing the SfY app to live on. Either way, it's yet another example of companies using (often questionable) patents to cause real harm, rather than spreading innovation and helping people.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:38am

    An advantage of Android

    An advantage of Android is that using the Play Store is completely optional. So at least on that platform, "Speak for Yourself" can still be distributed in a real and effective way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Graham J (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:39am

    So the patent system should be ignored when the patent in question is used by a child that can't talk. Or is being claimed by Apple.

    Slowly your interesting view of the world is coming into view Mike.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:39am

    when is everyone going to grasp that no company is interested in customers until they dont have them as customers any more? the most important thing is not providing a service, even for the likes of this poor, unfortunate little mite, but stopping everyone else from releasing a similar service, particularly if it performs better! ridiculous, pathetic and unnecessary. the courts should be ashamed of themselves for allowing, even encouraging, this type of behaviour which ends up harming the very people that were intended to be helped!

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:45am

    Look, we live in a rule of laws and regulations. We are all duty bound to follow those rules. Sure, Maya may not be able to speak, but she can still choose to communicate. No one is stopping her. She just has to communicate in a legal way.

    She could, for instance, write in a public domain calligraphy font, attach the note to a passenger pigeon and wait for the response.

    In fact, this is a field ripe for innovation since there are very few public domain calligraphy fonts not yet apprehended and passenger pigeons have been extinct for a while.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:49am

    Re:

    He say they should wait for the alleged patent infringement to be proven in court before taking action, not that patents should be ignored.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:54am

    Re:

    Wow, you almost had me. I was starting up a civil disobedience rant before I read that all the way through.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:56am

    Re: An advantage of Android

    John you're awesome :-) I think Maya is used to using an Apple interface so getting to "Speak To Yourself" on an Android device is a sort of big step for an autistic child...especially if it's a set routine.


    This is for Dana Meider Directly.

    Depending on Maya's condition, if you wish to continue using an iPad interface she is used to, try BitTorrent (http://www.bittorrent.com/) to upload "Speak For Yourself"'s .ipa file into the device without iTunes and without Jailbreaking the device. I used it when a game of mine I loved to play was "temporarily" pulled from the App store.

     

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  8.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 10:57am

    Re: Re: An advantage of Android

    *Nieder

     

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  9.  
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    Zos (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:04am

    Re:

    so the patent system should be ignored.
    (until it can be scrapped)

    period. fixed that for you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    SujaOfJauhnral (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:05am

    Re:

    the patent system should be ignored

    ^^^
    IDK about Mike but there's quite a few people on this site (including myself) who'd stop right here and say "Yes".

     

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  11.  
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    PRMan, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:21am

    Can't have it both ways, Mike...

    If this app technology is so revolutionary that it helps Autism sufferers in a way that no other app ever has, then it stands to reason that the patent IS VALID. Shame on the company for being so slow to get it onto a tablet, but at least now they are negotiating a reasonable settlement, which is what patents are designed to encourage.

     

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  12.  
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    halley (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:22am

    Re:

    Others have already said, "Yes."

    Another angle is for governments to start evoking eminent domain or imposing public domain on intangible property. I'm specifically referring to life-changing or life-saving drugs and devices. Generic AIDS drugs in Africa. Generic poke-a-word communication tablet interfaces.

    First, the US Constitution says "to promote the progress of the useful arts and sciences," not "to guarantee profits to creators." Second, the tools of copyright, patent, trademark and trade secret law are not the only tools that can apply to this sort of situation.

     

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  13.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:27am

    We should sincerely punch the IP maximalists in the face when they come with the "for the children" mantra. Srsly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re:

    Which would mean that due process is followed, ratehr than a company showing that they can't actually compete in the marketplace.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:32am

    Re:

    "So the patent system should be ignored when the patent in question is used by a child that can't talk. Or is being claimed by Apple."

    You are missing the point. Let me inform you about Autism. It works on many levels in a spectrum.

    Maya's brain cannot process verbal communication like you or I can. She can receive verbal communcation and understand them quite well, but she cannot process the proper way to give an output response verbally. She relies on Speak For Yourself and is very used to it's interface.

    The claim isn't coming from Apple nor is it from Google. Apple and Google just pulled the app out of concern of their own legal skin...note it doesn't make it right that they did. So because of a patent "infringement" case where a company claims rights over two lines of code that make the program function the way Maya's autistic brain is used to, she no longer has access to the app if it updates.

    Does it make it right at all to pull a patent claim lawsuit over bits of coded software and GUI that allow an autistic child to talk and communicate quickly and sufficiently in her own words using said code nd interface?
    Not one bit!!!

     

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  16.  
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    Pjerky (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:36am

    Re: An advantage of Android

    They could easily put it on the Amazon Android Store. That would help for now. Or they could just sell it directly from their website with instructions on how to download and install it on their Android device.

    I really find it despicable that Apple and Google would so easily cave when there have been no judgements made in this case at all. Cowards!

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:41am

    Re: Can't have it both ways, Mike...

    "then it stands to reason that the patent IS VALID"

    Your making the assumption that SfY is actually violating the patent. The other company has alleged that they have, but have not proven that yet. which is the whole argument here. SfY was pulled BEFORE infringement is proven, Guilty until proven innocent.

    If SfY is violating a patent, fine, pull the app.... AFTER the ruling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Pjerky (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:44am

    Re:

    Since when does a company's profits or "intellectual property" (a concept which is farcical in and of itself) come before helping a disabled child communicate with the world? Since when does it come before doing the right thing or bettering our world with tools that truly help people and fill a need (especially such a crucial one)?

    I would say never. Never should a company's profits or IP come before filling such crucial needs. The real problem is that the greedy companies behind the patents don't want to offer their product for fair and reasonable prices and they will punish anyone that does it in their stead.

    Personally I think such companies should receive severe penalties for this kind of persecution. Your profits are not more important than people and helping those in need with such a critical tool.

    We are not talking about a product that no one needs like a smartphone. We are not talking about entertainment like movies and music. We are talking about something that these kids really can't live without. Not without greatly diminishing their quality of life.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Pjerky (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:46am

    Web interface should be the next step

    They should come up with an HTML5 web interface using a very affordable subscription service as an alternative that can work in both mobile OSes through the browser.

    Think about it. With the web interface they will never have to deal with this app store BS ever again. I bet they can do it and even constantly add improvements. That would be amazing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Nick Dynice (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:46am

    So much for "Don't be evil."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Re: An advantage of Android

    Agreed on that. It's past time to take the control of iOS apps and Android apps out of the control of Google and Apple.

    They have way too stringent of requirements in many cases to put things in their stores and pull apps for the stupidest of reasons regularly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Christopher (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Bingo. This is just waiting for due process to wind it's way through.

    I personally feel that way too many things are patentable today. Complete software and hardware packages, fine.

    Piecemeal software and hardware patents, hell no!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Reality Check, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:36pm

    Re:

    Do you realize that the holy 'Patent System' is a Legal Construct?
    The holy 'Patent System' is not a Moral Code. It's a set of laws.

    He's saying that a legal construct is bad and needs to be discarded or revised.
    This is one more example of how the holy patent system is bad.

    In fact, he didn't say it should be ignored.
    In fact, he said that Apple and Android are pre-emptively pulling the app, before it has even been decided whether the holy patent system has even been infracted.

    Your interesting view of the world (and your reading comprehension) is coming into view quite rapidly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re:

    Seems to be part of the overall conservative American worldview that healthcare is something that only those who can afford it should be entitled to.

    What kind of country can an autistic child be denied such a benefit over profits... the same kind of country that says cures for diseases can be patent-protected, that free healthcare is an evil socialist ideal.

    Funnily enough they're happy to benefit from free soldiers, free police forces, free fire services, free roads, free garbage disposal... but free healthcare? No, that's for those dirty commies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Reality Check, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Can't have it both ways, Mike...

    Patents are designed to encourage what?
    Reasonable settlement?

    That's funny.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    cosmicrat (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:46pm

    Ebenezer would be proud

    Only a true Scrooge would value profit over a child's quality of life like this. Apple and Google disgrace themselves by suppressing the app. Assuming the patent infringement is proved, still in this case I would say it is more moral to break the law than to obey it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Christopher (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Re: Can't have it both ways, Mike...

    Agreed with the 'after the ruling' part. No reason to pull anything before a court has made a decision or jury has made a decision on X thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    cosmicrat (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:47pm

    Ebenezer would be proud

    Only a true Scrooge would value profit over a child's quality of life like this. Apple and Google disgrace themselves by suppressing the app. Assuming the patent infringement is proved, still in this case I would say it is more moral to break the law than to obey it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Kaden (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:48pm

    Re:

    "So the patent system should be ignored when the patent in question is used by a child that can't talk."

    Yeah. Got a problem with that?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    el_segfaulto (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re:

    In this situation, the patent system (which ostensibly is set up to benefit our culture) is being abused and ultimately hurting society. To hell with software patents. And this is coming from a software developer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 1:30pm

    When speaking for yourself is outlawed, only the outlaws will be able to speak for themselves.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    KMD, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 1:47pm

    patents

    So three of us have invested our life savings and two and one half years of testing into creating a new device for the deaf. IT WORKS we apply and get our patents. It comes to market and is stolen by a deaf organization to distribute for free. My family and my fellow researchers should not be rewarded financially for the risk, time and investment we made. Sounds like a great way to stop innovation and investment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Kaden (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:21pm

    Re: patents

    This 'risk' you speak of... Why would you expect to be paid for taking it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    HuwOS, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:26pm

    Re: Re:

    Nonsense, the patent system should not be ignored.
    It should be fully examined, torn down and what little there was in it that was actually of benefit to society could then form the core of a new system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:27pm

    Re: Re: An advantage of Android

    they could just sell it directly from their website with instructions on how to download and install it on their Android device.


    They don't even need to supply instructions beyond "click here to install".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: An advantage of Android

    Actually, that's not quite right. You also have to uncheck the configutration box that restricts you to using the Play Store, but that's trivial.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:32pm

    Re:

    So corporate profits should trump the health and well-being of children.

    Your interesting view of the world is readily apparent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Web interface should be the next step

    Ack, no, this type of service would not be an adequate replacement for an installed app for a whole host of reasons.

    A better choice would be to avoid iOS altogether and use a platform that doesn't limit what you're allowed to do with it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:44pm

    Re: patents

    My family and my fellow researchers should not be rewarded financially for the risk, time and investment we made


    Interesting. Not a single comment here has argued this, why are you raising it as a point? Unless you think that it's impossible to get a financial return on development unless you have a patent, but that's just silliness.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re: Web interface should be the next step

    iOS is the only interface she is used to. You can use BitTorrent to load the .ipa files to an iOS device using it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Web interface should be the next step

    Yes, for this specific case. I was talking about the larger picture.

    This is an example of why I think that Apple's walled garden is a bad choice for consumers to make. It's seductive in that it succeeds in what it's trying to do: make it an "appliance" that can be reasonably used by people who don't know or care about how to use the technology.

    The problem is that sooner or later (and usually sooner), the naive user is no longer naive and has a better understanding. At that point they discover that the walled garden is a prison.

     

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  42.  
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    Samuel Abram (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 5:23pm

    This is why I prefer Android to iOS

    While it's much easier to install 3rd party apps on Android devices without going through the Play Store...


    which is why I prefer Android to iOS. If an app gets removed, workarounds are easy. Or to paraphrase the great Cory Doctorow: "I trust Google as little as I trust Apple or Microsoft. But the Android OS--when compared to iOS and Windows Phone 7--requires the least amount of trust." Thanks, Google!

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    Elizabeth, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 6:32pm

    Maya doesn't have Autism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 7:11pm

    Re:

    The patent shouldn't have been granted in the first place, the very idea that we can have patents on algorithms when it's quite clearly outlined that algorithms aren't patentable is foolish.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 7:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Web interface should be the next step

    It's not entirely a prison...just a minimum
    security asylum....

    As the walled garden in concerned, I think the only real walled garden is in development. As a user though, I can tell you that consumer-wise, you don't need iTunes to upload apps to your devices. As I said, I had to use BitTorrent to upload stuff that was "temporarily" out of iTunes. :-) Any app file in .ipa format can be uploaded via BitTorrent, no ROM-ing, rooting, or Jailbreaking involved :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 7:15pm

    Re:

    I'm hoping you really have facts to prove that and may god have mercy on your soul if you're trolling thinking that is funny.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
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    streetlight (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 7:27pm

    Re: Re:

    I think the proposal for governments to usurp the rights of patent holders is already going on in India and Brazil. The drug companies that hold the patents on life saving HIV/AIDS drugs who charge thousands of dollars per month for the meds are no longer in business there. The drugs are now being produced for affordable costs by Indian companies and perhaps in Brazil or are being imported. Lives and the quality of life are at stake in the drive to protect patented medications resulting in unaffordable prices. In many cases only the very rich can afford to survive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Sandra, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:27pm

    Re:

    Thank you! I was reading with increasing surprise all these claims about her autism - the article doesn't even say she has it, so why this assumption? There are other reasons for speech impairments.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
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    PCCare247 (profile), Sep 5th, 2012 @ 2:19am

    Patents and Copyrights...!!!

    Patents & Copyright are some of the words which are being used quite often now-a-days. And I find one name in common. and i.e. Apple.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2012 @ 4:17am

    Re: Re:

    Maya is not autistic though. If you read Dana's blog or the original story even, she has some sort of condition which they think is probably genetic where she does not have the control of the muscles in her mouth used to formulate the sounds. Her thought processes appear to be completely normal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 5th, 2012 @ 6:34am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ok, thank you for informing me of this. :-) Still not right as to what's going on regardless of condition though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
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    Wally (profile), Sep 5th, 2012 @ 6:41am

    Re: Re:

    My appologies, it's just that in some cases of Autism, as seen with a few of my patients, I've noticed they comprehend the stimuli around them more than you or I could ever know, but they still can't verbally convey forms of communication to others. So I hope you all can understand the assumption of relatively new-comers to the case :-) It's a physical condition and I'm glad that the assumptuons are being corrected by you wonderful people :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    identicon
    Sandra, Sep 5th, 2012 @ 10:49am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Of course apps like these can be, and increasingly are, used by people on the autism spectrum, as they may be non-verbal but able to use a communication device.

    I know, by reading Maya's mom's blog, that she's not on the autism spectrum - and I just found it surprising that this was the assumption of most of these commenters even though there was no mention of the reason for her speech impairment in the article.

    If I hadn't known about it, I think a physical condition like cerebral palsy might have been my first "guess" - but perhaps it's the increase in communication device users on the autism spectrum (and the media coverage) that does it :-)

    In all cases, and no matter the condition, it's nice that awareness of alternative communication is brought to the public's attention :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2012 @ 9:21pm

    Re: Re: patents

    But maybe someone should.
    Your work could allow a child to communicate, but unless you are rewarded you won't allow it?

    You could dive into a river and save someone from drowning, but unless you are rewarded you ...?

    You could help that dying person on the other side of the road but if you don't see any reward in it for you...?

    If your profit or lack of profit is dependent on denying something basic to a human being, then yes, you have no particular right to profit regardless of how much work you have done or what risks you have taken.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 7th, 2012 @ 2:36am

    Re: An advantage of Android

    "An advantage of Android is that using the Play Store is completely optional."
    For me it isn't, it just doesn't work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 7th, 2012 @ 2:41am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "[T]he patent system should not be ignored. It should be fully examined, torn down and what little there was in it that was actually of benefit to society could then form the core of a new system."
    Quoted for truth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Sep 7th, 2012 @ 2:48am

    About Autistics

    @ PRMan: We don't suffer from Autism, we're made to suffer because we're Autistic. Dipwad.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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