An iPad app designed to give voice to nonverbal individuals with disabilities is the focus of a lawsuit pitting a major assistive technology company against two speech-language pathologists. Now, one mom says kids like hers are stuck in the middle.
The app, Speak for Yourself, retails for $299 and functions as a sophisticated electronic communication board, audibly speaking words as a user selects images on the screen. It debuted late last year in Apple’s App Store, but by March was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Prentke Romich Company (PRC) and Semantic Compaction Systems. The companies claim that the app violates numerous patents they hold.
The app’s creators — Heidi LoStracco and Renee Collender — are defending themselves in court and say on their website that the allegations are “baseless.” Nonetheless, last week Apple yanked their app from the App Store at the request of the companies bringing the suit.
And that has at least one mom crying foul. Dana Nieder says that Speak for Yourself is the only communication aid that her nonverbal daughter, Maya, 4, has responded to. In a handful of blog posts since March, Nieder, has criticized the legal action as a direct threat to her daughter’s voice.
“The fact that my daughter’s ability to speak is becoming a casualty of a patent battle between two businesses is beyond my comprehension,” Nieder wrote on her blog after learning that Speak for Yourself was pulled from the App Store. “PRC’s decision to fight for the removal of this app from the iTunes store isn’t just an aggressive move against Speak for Yourself, it’s an attack on my child, the other children using this app and the children who are ready to begin using this app but now cannot.”
As for Prentke Romich, the company said it took steps to keep the matter out of court, but was rebuffed.
“SCS and PRC filed the patent infringement lawsuit after we reached out to the app company’s founders and offered various business solutions, but were refused,” reads a statement from the company, which sells its own line of assistive communication devices all of which retail for several thousand dollars, but does not offer an app of its own. “It is important to emphasize that while there are many useful language apps in the marketplace, ‘Speak for Yourself’ is the only app named in the lawsuit because of its flagrant infringements.”