Apple pulls language app in face of patent dispute
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Three companies that develop technologies to help nonverbal people communicate have engaged in their own war of words that has moved from a Pittsburgh courtroom to a debate on the Internet.
This month Apple Inc. pulled the Speak for Yourself iPad app from its App Store under pressure from Pittsburgh-based Semantic Compaction Systems and its licensee, Prentke Romich Co. A judge then refused Speak for Yourself's request to order a reversal of Apple's decision.
Semantic and Prentke jointly sued Speak for Yourself and its creators for patent infringement earlier this year. On Monday, they expanded their complaint to include copyright violations.
The suit seeks to protect Semantic's patented communications technology, which allows nonverbal and disabled users to verbalize words using a keyboard. Prentke, an Ohio-based company, creates the devices that support Semantic's keyboard technology.
According to the initial complaint, the Speak for Yourself app "is substantially similar to" Semantic and Prentke's patented technology. Apps, or applications, are tools that owners add to their electronics to access news, education, games and more.
Speak for Yourself is fighting the suit, countering that the app does not use Semantic's "multiple meaning" icon technology in which one icon, such as a picture of an apple, may represent several different words, such as red, eat or hungry. The counterclaim also states that because Semantic's technology is not available as an iPad app, Speak for Yourself does not violate the patent.
Speak for Yourself, based in New Jersey, provides a more affordable alternative to Semantic and Prentke. The cheapest Prentke device, the SpringBoard Lite, costs $2,595, according to its website. Before it was pulled from the App store, Speak for Yourself retailed at $299.99 on top of the normal costs of an iPad.
The app's removal has caused an online backlash against Semantic, Prentke and Apple. The mother of one nonverbal child has used her blog to launch a campaign to have Speak for Yourself returned to the App store. A petition on change.org currently has more than 3,000 signatures.
While current owners can continue using the app, it may be incompatible with future updates to the iPad operating system, and new customers cannot purchase it.
Representatives for Speak for Yourself, Semantic, Prentke and Apple declined to comment.
First Published June 20, 2012 12:00 am