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Dispute Erupts As iPad App For Nonverbal Is Pulled

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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.”

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Comments (17 Responses)

  1. annie says:

    It makes me sad that what ultimately boils down to financial greed will be hindering so many children from having a voice.

  2. Jody says:

    I say we boycott both companies. How incredibly selfish and ridiculous.

  3. KDC says:

    It makes me sick that companies charge $300 for an app for people with disabilities anyway! I think this lawsuit is ridiculous, but I wish the companies who create the apps would price them within the reach of families. We all know how expensive disabilities are. I end up feeling like a terrible parent because my child gets the $50 app (at some hardship), since we in no way can afford the $300 app. It’s a terrible thing to know your child might achieve more, become more, learn more if you had the financial means. It feels like a rigged system of “haves” and “have nots”. The fact that a couple of the “haves” are fighting each other over a $300 app disgusts me.

  4. PsychDoc says:

    Sadly $300 is MUCH cheaper compared to PRC’s communication devices which are in the thousands. Most definitely about greed! Very sad.

  5. Dave says:

    Mainstream Technology presents more and more opportunity for kids and adults with disabilities to have enhance learning and communication. Not only that but mainstream Tech. makes kids that have it cool and the same as their non disabled peers. They no longer have to carry so big clunky odd device that makes them stand out. That raises the question: Why are so many SLPs still pimping these near useless, archaic devices with some even refusing to assist kids who use ipads for learning and communication.
    These old machines were overpriced, costly to update and slow and expensive to get repaired but they had families over a barrel when weighed against their loved ones success.
    Those that pushed these clunkers know that there leverage and lucrative market have evaporated are just desperate. Give it up!

  6. Andrew S. Haber says:

    This is what happens when Apple the hardware manufacture has a monopoly on the sale of third party software used on their device the iPad that is not Jail-broken. I assume that while then App was removed from the App Store, it was not removed from devices of users that purchased the “Speak for Yourself” (as Amazon did for some books for the Kindle) , this means that users cannot get updates but can still use the software. This means that the vendor of the software can to sell it on other sites that sell to jail-broken iPads. Now the disabled must have their IPads jail-broken (which is allowed by law but brakes the warranty on the iPad) ,

    Apple has to remove the product from its App Store when it is notified of the alleged violation of the Patent Law or else it would be the deep pocket for paying damages.

  7. Leslie says:

    Shame on PRC!!!

  8. Barbara Morgan says:

    I have a young adult who has a ACD. We have several friends who have them as well, as well as iPads with communication apps. While I completely appreciate the comments on the high cost of free-standing devices and the inherent ‘coolness’ of iPads, I am bothered by the claims of patent infringement. If intellectual property rights are not protected, then companies will have no incentive to develop new and more sophisticated software. Patent infringement happens across industries. The fact that this case happens to involve individuals with developmental issues doesn’t mean the people who worked hard and created the original programs should be accused of being greedy. They are merely protecting what they worked hard to create.

  9. Suzanne Lane says:

    Why can’t Apple just stop selling the App until the dispute is settled? The children that are using the App successfully should continue to benefit from it. If there is something that we all should know by now, is that a child with Autism does not need change if something is working!

  10. Mary MacDougall says:

    Prentke Romich is a wonderful & forward thinking company which has done tremendous & important work in the interest of nonverbal persons for some time now.
    They have invested much money & time into developing devices & programming. Their devices are expensive, because they have very limited application & marketability, as compared to, say, cell phones which just about everyone on the planet uses. Although their rices mey seem steep, you have to consider all of the background research & development which goes into these things, and the faact that they sell to a very small segment of the population. I am sorry for the trouble associated with the developers of the communication App, but as professional SLPs we must be mindful of copyright & development issues when using or developing products. BTW, I am a CCC-SLP. The only reason any product which was once expensive (EX: hand held calculators & phones) becomes cheaper is because it can be massproduced & marketed.

  11. GB Holman says:

    If you people would check out the history of PRC you would find a company dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities. It would be impossible to measure the number of individuals who were given a voice by this company. The iPad is wonderful but not appropriate for all people with disabilities; there is no one size fits all. If these SLPs did indeed use the vocabulary system that was researched and payed for by PRC, then shame on them and shame on all of you who are criticizing a company you are obviously not familiar with. Having a child with a disability does not give you the right to steal someone else’s intellectual property.

  12. ADWMS says:

    You folks need to get all the facts http://www.prentrom.com/news/updated-statement-regarding-pending-litigation. A copyright infringement is serious. I am an AAC practitioner and use many companies’ devices. They all cost a lot because of the R&D required to create them. There is a very small market they sell to, so it takes a long time to pay for the R&D. Most of the AAC companies make ~10-13% profit (typical for small business). PRC is one of the oldest companies in the business. They do more than ANY other company to train, provide support, and teach people about language and communication. If they go out of business, the AAC filed would suffer greatly. Why would they not try to stay in business.

  13. ann misuraca says:

    Good Grief! Can’t ANYBODY think of the disabled persons first? It’s always the money first, and never mind about those who need and benefit from a product or service. What are these “flagrant infringements ” anyway?

  14. NickSLP says:

    In my work as an SLP I keep track of all new apps that claim to turn the iPad/iPod into a communication device. When Speak for Yourself first appeared, my first thought was “someone has stolen PRC’s system!” Everyone familiar with AAC that I questioned had the same reaction. Over the years, I have witnessed PRC’s research, product development and dedication to the disability community. They brought us to where we are today with AAC. If the iPad is the best platform to use, consult with your SLP and pick another AAC app.

  15. Cheryl says:

    I’m an SLP and when a child’s mother brought the Speak for Yourself app to my attention, my initial impression was that it was produced by the PRC people because it was such a complete and total rip-off. Go to the PRC website and take a look at the Vantage Lite and see what I mean. I think iPads and similar devices are the future – they seem much more accessible to parents, and that alone gives them an edge, even without the tremendous cost differences between devices and apps. But the Speak for Yourself app’s entire operating methodology is such a blatant copy of the Vantage, it would be impossible for the PRC people to overlook.
    Now do I think that PRC should have created the app themselves…yes…and all the aug-com device companies had better get on board the tablet train.

  16. Jillian King says:

    For anyone familiar with Semantic Compaction and PRC’s unique language systems, it was clearly theft of proprietory property which any business has a right to defend themselves against. I don’t, and have never worked for PRC or Semantic Compaction, but 5 minutes into looking at the App I couldn’t believe they could incorporate the key components of the company’s products that makes them unique in the AAC field without having the permissions to do so. It’s one thing to do so when customizing an individual device or system for a child (still not a good idea), but to incorporate into a product you are going to sell on the market? Bad business planning, or just general unethical behavior on the part of “Speak for Yourself’s” owners. It was also a very high cost to put out an App in the market – I thought Apple was placing a limit on those single App costs after Proloquo, which is one of the reasons device manufacturers have struggled to put apps out there with all of the r & d involved in developing a complex linguistic system. It was Semantic Compaction’s years of work and research, it belongs to them.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I used to work with the developers of the Speak for Yourself app before and evidently while they were developing the app. In my opinion, they always operated unethically and the children were not their first concern. I was not surprised when I learned that this had happened. I believe Prenke Romich is justified.

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