People sometimes think of software patents as bad but in an abstract sort of way. They are bad, but there’s nothing abstract about the way they can harm people’s lives.
Take Maya Neider, for example. She’s a three year old girl with special needs. She can’t speak, so uses an iPad application, Speak for Yourself, to be her voice. This is known as augmentative and alternative communication, usually abbreviated AAC.
So far so good. Enter the bad guys: Semantic Compaction Systems and Prentke Romich Company. These companies make AAC devices costing thousands of pounds, and they don’t like competition. So they’re using patents to throttle it. As Maya’s mum Dana explains:
But now Speak for Yourself in under fire, and from a surprising (to an AAC outsider) or not-so-surprising (to an AAC insider) source. They’re being sued by Semantic Compaction Systems and Prentke Romich Company, big names in the AAC world. SCS and PRC allege that Speak for Yourself is infringing on their patents.
It’s a very logical assumption (confirmed by the AAC professionals that I’ve spoken with) that if SCS/PRC win this lawsuit, they will eliminate Speak for Yourself, the app that my 3 year old is working her damnedest to learn.
They will remove it from the market. It will disappear. They have no reason to keep it alive and one giant reason to kill it . . . money. PRC can make around $9,000 by selling one of their communication devices, and only a few hundred per iPad app. Hardware profits annihilate software profits.
Interestingly, PRC’s mission statement starts with “We Believe Everyone Deserves A Voice.” Perhaps “We Believe Everyone Who Purchases Our Devices Deserves A Voice” or “We Believe Everyone Except Those Needing An Affordable App Deserves a Voice” might be more appropriate alternatives.
Software patents are evil: they do nothing to help innovation, and a lot to stifle it. Locked-down devices such as Apple’s iPad are also evil, because they prevent users (such as Maya and Dana) from running programs of their own choice (such as Speak For Yourself). Corportations such as Semantic Compaction Systems and Prentke Romich Company are evil, because they hate disabled children and are trying to blight their lives. If you agree, vote Pirate on May the 3rd, and at every other opportunity.