Apple Steps Into Patent Fight To Unnecessarily Silence A Little Girl
from the really,-apple? dept
When we wrote the original blog post about it, we noted that even if PRC/SCS had a strong legal position, if PRC truly stood behind its own mission statement that "We Believe Everyone Deserves A Voice," it would drop the lawsuit. Unfortunately it appears to have gone in the other direction, and enlisted Apple's help, which Apple gave despite no legal basis for doing so. Maya's mother, Dana, recently wrote an update, which starts out by explaining just how much the SfY app has changed their lives in an amazing way:
Maya’s progress in using the app to communicate has been staggering. In my original post I imagined a future in which I could hear Maya “speak” in phrases and share her thoughts . . . now, only weeks later, we are living that future. She politely makes requests, tapping out “I want cookie please.” She makes jokes, like looking out the window at the bright sunshine and tapping “today rain” and laughing (what can I say, 4 year olds don’t tell the best jokes). And two days ago she looked at my husband as he walked by and tapped “Daddy, I love you.”But, some have snapped the lawsuit right back into focus. Despite the fact that PRC/SCS has not asked the court for an injunction barring the sale of SfY, the companies instead went to Apple and simply asked it to pull the app from the app store, claiming infringement. Apple, at least, first contact SfY, whose lawyer explained the situation, said that the infringement claims were unfounded, and pointed them to the ongoing court case. Apple seemed to accept this for a little while... but for reasons that no one but Apple can understand, it decided on June 4th that since the lawsuit hadn't been settled or ruled upon yet, the app should be pulled.
Maya can speak to us, clearly, for the first time in her life. We are hanging on her every word. We’ve learned that she loves talking about the days of the week, is weirdly interested in the weather, and likes to pretend that her toy princesses are driving the bus to school (sometimes) and to work (other times). This app has not only allowed her to communicate her needs, but her thoughts as well. It’s given us the gift of getting to know our child on a totally different level. I’ve been so busy embracing this new reality and celebrating that I kind of forgot that there was an ongoing lawsuit.
As Dana notes, the app they still have on the iPad works... for now. But it's clearly at risk:
At the moment, we still have the app, securely loaded into her iPad and present in my iTunes account, and Maya remains blissfully unaware that anything has changed. Dave and I, however, know better. We are now shadowed by a huge, impending threat. With the removal of Speak for Yourself from the iTunes store, the SfY team has lost the ability to send out updates or repairs to the people who are currently using the app. At this point, an update from Apple to the iPad's operating system (which gets updated semi-regularly) could render SfY useless (because if the new operating system was to be incompatible with the code for SfY, there would be no way for the team to reconfigure the app to make it compatible with the new OS and send out the updated version). Our app could stop working, and Maya would be left unable to speak, and no one would be able to help us.Dana questions two things: why would PRC/SCS go to Apple, even though there's the entirely separate court case happening? And why would Apple remove the app? Both moves are pretty shameful, though not too surprising if you follow these kinds of cases. PRC/SCS is using all the tools in the toolbox to put pressure on SfY to fold. Going directly to Apple is much cheaper and much more likely to be effective than asking the judge for an injunction. As for Apple? Well, as we've said, the company is notoriously arbitrary in removing apps. That it may take away a little girl's voice is apparently of little or no concern to the company.
And there’s another threat, too, perhaps a more sinister one. What would happen if PRC/SCS contacted Apple and asked them to remotely delete the copies of Speak for Yourself that were already purchased, citing that the app was (allegedly) illegally infringing upon their patents, and stating that they wanted it entirely removed from existence? Prior to last week, I would have (naively) thought that such an aggressive move, harmful to hundreds of innocent nonverbal children, would have been unfathomable. Now, it appears to be a real concern. Prior to last week I would have (naively) thought that even if such a request was made, Apple would never comply without a court injunction forcing them to do so. Now, it appears that they very well might.
SfY has put out a statement and is seeking a temporary restraining order (embedded below) to try to get the app back into the App Store. Facing a ton of criticism, PRC put out a substance-free statement on its Facebook page with the usual "lots of hard work" language about their product and how they have to stop this "flagrant infringement." The comments on that statement are not particularly kind to PRC. As many people have stated, it's positively ridiculous to force the app out of the store prior to a court actually reviewing whether or not there's infringement here. But beyond just the legal issues, there are quite reasonable questions about PRC/SCS's strategy from a business standpoint. Why would anyone want to do business with those companies going forward? Could you trust a company that sees this kind of strategy as reasonable?