Microsoft recently announced that it is moving its European distribution operation out of Germany and into the Netherlands. The reason: A nasty patent battle with Motorola, who is suing the software giant in the German courts over the use of its patented H.264 video compression format in various Microsoft products.
Many corporate powerhouses are at each other’s throats these days and more often than not technology is at the core of the disputes. In a way, these battles represent the growth and evolution of technology. There was a time when patents in the tech field were controlled by the corporate giants. Companies like Microsoft made it challenging for startups to introduce their ideas and emerge onto the scene. With the internet being such a big part of the technical landscape, the playing field is more level than ever.
Patent wars tend to have huge implications, but sometimes the impact is felt beyond the parties involved in the disputes. If anyone knows about being in this unenviable predicament it is Dana Nieder and her family.
The Victims of Patent Disputes
The impact of patents and their role in technological evolution parallels with the story of Dana Nieder and her daughter Maya. At only three years old, Maya suffers from an unknown condition that drastically delays her development. In an interview with Digital Trends, Dana revealed that the condition affects her communication more than anything. Maya communicates by using a combination of hand signs, gestures and sounds - her vocabulary is limited to one or two words. Although the condition presents unique challenges, the Nieder family has been able to make huge strides with technology.
Dana told Digital Trends that the iPad, particularly because of its rich application support, has been incredibly useful for Maya and her condition. After a lengthy search, she ran across Speak For Yourself, a program powered by Augmentative Alternate Communication (AAC). The Neider family found that the app was perfect for assisting with Maya’s communication needs, delivering more than 14,000 words she can use to express herself. Combined with the crisp visual element of the iPad, Dana said the app’s comprehensive interface made for an experience that was far more user-friendly than anything else she’d come across.
Unfortunately for the Nieder family, the availability of Speak For Yourself may be in jeopardy. Heidi LoStracco and Rene Collender, the creators of the app, are currently involved in a legal battle over the patent rights behind the technology. Earlier this year, Semantic Compaction Systems filed a civil complaint alleging that LoStracco and Collender learned about the technology by attending events where the company openly discussed its patents and products. Semantic claims that the creators knowingly and purposely infringed on two of its patents with Speak For Yourself - one originally filed in 1995, and the other filed in 1997.
Speak For Yourself is not on the only option available to the Nieder family, but it appears to be among the most affordable and intuitive. Dana said the app was not only easier to use than other AAC applications, but cheaper than traditional AAC hardware. For example, depending on the manufacturer, the best of these devices could start out around $7,000. That’s very steep for a family that reportedly experienced coverage issues with their insurance company, in addition to being denied Medicaid.
Whose Tech Is It?
Apart from denying the claims of infringement, the creators of Speak For Yourself have not had much to say regarding the matter. As the patent holder for Prentke Romich Company, a firm that manufactures AAC devices, one could understand Semantic wanting to pursue legal action against any parties infringing on its intellectual rights. In this case, unfortunately, the results of the litigation could make an even bigger impact outside of the courtroom, which probably happens much more than we realize.