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.

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Companies: apple, google, prentke romich company, semantic compaction systems, speak for yourself

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Comments on “Google Follows Apple In Unnecessarily Pulling App That Allowed A Little Girl To Speak”

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Wally (profile) says:

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 ( 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.

Pjerky (profile) says:

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!

halley says:

Re: 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.

streetlight (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: 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!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Pjerky (profile) says:

Re: 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.

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Reality Check says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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!

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

PRMan (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Pjerky (profile) says:

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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

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.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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 🙂

KMD says:


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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

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!

Wally (profile) says:

Re: 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 🙂

Sandra says:

Re: 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 🙂

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