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The Silencing of Maya (niederfamily.blogspot.be)
785 points by kngl on June 12, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 321 comments

The biggest culprit here, in my view, isn't Apple, PRC, or the patent system.

It's the death of physical media and the rise of the "app store" model.

I have programs for my Apple //e computer that are over 30 years old. Most of the companies that made the software have long since disappeared, and the computer hasn't been supported since the '80s, but I can still use them.

That software is my property. I own it, and I can use it for as long as the disks hold out.

By contrast, the software on my iPad isn't really mine, in any practical sense. I'm licensing it, and it can be taken away, or I can be forced into "updates" that may change it in ways I don't want. Sure, I can avoid updating my apps, keep the iPad offline, and only use apps that run 100% locally, but that's an impractical solution, at best.

Consumers are becoming trained to think of their devices as barely more than hermetically sealed dumb terminals (although they wouldn't use that phrase). The notion of "owning" things by paying for them is fading. "Cloud" apps that are free or subscription-based, music and movies that you stream rather than buy, the books on your Kindle, even the seeds that farmers buy from Monsanto aren't theirs to own and use as they please.

Steven Hawking famously continued using the same 1980s-era speech synthesizer for decades because he felt the voice was part of his identity. The company that made it went out of business, but he didn't lose his voice. He could have gone for constant updates, a new and "better" voice every year, but he chose not to. Because he owned his speech synthesizer, it was his choice to make.

There is a lot of obvious benefit to the app store model, from convenience to cost savings to ease of use. There are also many cases where it's vitally important that people own their software and their data. I don't know if it means we need more options for physical media and manual installs, or legislation protecting people's purchases from unwanted updates and removals, or something else, but I see this as a problem that's not limited to just this one situation.

Are we really blaming the technology here? You're neglecting the reality: that a person--a living, breathing, thinking person--is behind the switch or lever that eliminates access.

Connected computing is the inevitable future. We will always hold less physical computing capability in our hands then can be beamed to us from afar on-demand.

What is ridiculous is the systems--the people systems--we have built that fostered this ethical failure. The social system of law that constrains Apple's behaviors. The internal social system at Apple whose 'conservative' default behavior is to remove rather then remit. There's a dude at Apple whose fear for losing his job overrides any sense of disgust he may have felt doing this.

The technology is not at fault. Our contemporary framework for regulating that technology--our society's response to that technology--is at fault.

a living, breathing, thinking person--is behind the switch or lever that eliminates access.

A living, breathing, thinking person also did the research that this technology is based on, possibly risking their own capital (livelihood) to do so. Are they not entitled to earn anything? Should all researchers be starving artists in garrets?

Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.

Nobody is entitled to earn anything. Perhaps your great idea can't make money without a special legal monopoly, but that is not in itself a reason for the legal monopoly to exist. Being creative is not a license to get rich off your ideas.

I wonder what all of the pro-union people here on HN have to say about this. Unions are, in essence, a special monopoly in certain industries that entitles people to a certain wage.

In some industries (like the auto industry), a job that normally should pay a little above minimum wage is inflated to many more times this.

"Being creative is not a license to get rich off your ideas."

When copyrights and patents are finally gone, I hope I have money. Why? I will have the resources to cherry pick up-and-coming inventors that don't have the same resources as I do.

> Are they not entitled to earn anything? Should all researchers be starving artists in garrets?

Do you mean the creators of SfY, who seem to claim to have done at least some of the research that went into it themselves, or do you discount their effort and risk merely because another company accused them of infringing a software patent?

It is a bit easy on Apple to blame not them but the "app store" model they created for their devices and control completely. Apple has been a leader in this industry shift.

Also it is not a question of physical media vs. downloaded software. Even physical media software now routinely call home to check for a valid license. So I suppose it is indeed legislation that we need, to prevent companies from revoking licenses.

That is a weak workaround. There real solution is to fully recognize that information is power, and to have a separation of powers similar to the three powers of Montesquieu's.

Hardware companies should no be allowed to make or sell or control software.

Software companies should not be allowed to produce, sell or control hardware.

The same way we, user, citizen, forbade our physicians to sell us the drug they prescribe, we should forbid information processing companies to sell us the devices where this information is processed on.

I'm looking at you, Google, Apple and contenders. Everyone belived 1984 was targeted at totalitarian government, but maybe the dark prophecy is being fulfilled under our eyes.

If I were a good pamphletist, I would write a punchy call for arms on the topic.

I would write a punchy call for arms on the topic.

The Free Software/Open Source community has been banging this drum for years. Come join us and let us all make the world better.

You mean, worse?

How would you argue that? Genuinely curious.

Can you tell me the case where separating hardware from software created superior product? Anyway, I am too tired to argue with FOSS extremists touting their imaginary world with imaginary benefits and solutions for imaginary threats for imaginary users. "Users" ir the key word there. Majority of the people using software are just users, not programmers. We are not all butchers, bakers, and car mechanics. We don't have problems some imagine we have.

>imaginary world with imaginary benefits and solutions for imaginary threats

Do be careful. RMS's "imaginations" have come true more than once. It's often that you don't know what you have until it's gone...

I think this sort of thing must be open source.

I am ready to contribute to such a project if it already exists.

They never came true. They never will. But of course, with some goalpost shifting you can argue that. Anyway, RMS "imaginations" have nothing to do with the world as it is today.

He thought you meant that open source makes the world worse.

Can you tell me the case where separating hardware from software created superior product?


Specifically, the IBM PC.

Where does hardware end where does software start? Is the code in your BIOS still hardware? How about the driver for your graphics card? Is it still hardware if the processor only executes code signed by its manufacturer?

Forbidding hardware companies like Apple to sell software is not sufficient to prevent them from only running things they approve. And besides, a law like that would likely cripple a large part of the industry and stifle innovation.

I am sure there have been many objections against separation of executive, legislative and judiciary powers, also in the name of efficiency.

> a law like that

I don't see it as a law. I think it should be to the constitutional level. Laws, if necessary, would get into details on how to enforce the constitution, and these details may vary with place and time.

> would likely cripple a large part of the industry and stifle innovation

On the opposite, I think it would in long term be better enforced by such a separation of (information) powers. One of the reason could be that it would require open formats for any communication between hardware and software. Then any other company could compete in the field, and innovate in directions either not allowed or not deemed interesting by the bigger companies.

> not sufficient to prevent [Apple] from only running things they approve

I do not think Apple or any other hardware provider is the least entitled to prevent me, the owner of the device I bought, from using any software I like. In my mind, current users of these devices when not unlocked do not own them, they rent them really, and should be aware of this.

Apple wouldn't exist if a Montesquieu like separation of powers had been applied to the industry. Apple has always had seamless control of their product, it's what differentiates and makes them successful as a company.

Apple aren't legally preventing you from running anything. If you're clever enough to do it, go nuts. If you think they're making it too hard, tough luck. Their products aren't built to spec; you're not entitled to a product that works any differently than the one they sold you.

If you buy a microwave and you want to run custom software on it, that is your problem, not the microwave manufacturers.

>> you're not entitled to a product that works any differently than the one they sold you.

Right, because you knew what you were buying. However:

>> Apple aren't legally preventing you from running anything.

They tried to, though.

>> Apple's request to define copyright law to include jailbreaking as a violation was denied as part of the 2009 DMCA rulemaking. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOS_jailbreaking#United_States_...

There's a big difference between "we're not going to help you do X with your purchased item" and "we legally forbid doing X with your purchased item."

The only thing keeping companies like Apple from doing this is our insistence that they don't.

I take it you're fine with UEFI Secure Boot, then?

I don't consider it my right to have Microsoft produce anything else for me.

Separation of power, like Democracy and other such ideas, don't necessarily belong in every system. Politics/government is not an optional system; everyone has to take part (whether they want to or not.)

Consumer technology is not enforced by police and armies, and should be free from the demands we may rightly have on our state.

Besides, how would you like to buy a hardware-only car? What about a fridge or a plane without the code that makes it work? The hardware/software dichotomy is only an abstraction---the instruction set of a processor is software, but the hardware must be designed around it.

> Politics/government is not an optional system; everyone has to take part (whether they want to or not.) Consumer technology is not enforced by police and armies, and should be free from the demands we may rightly have on our state.

In the information age, if you want to live a full life, then consumer technology is no more optional than government and politics.

This is not to say that there should be a strict separation of hardware and software. But it is an interesting idea.

It is very much more optional. Government and politics have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

Note that I'm not referring to consumer technology as a whole; I'm saying no specific consumer technology is forced upon you. While it's hard to avoid the idea of it, I don't have to buy an iPad if I don't like it. I do have to pay property tax.

I think information is power mostly because you do not have the choice. Only few exceptions can live a life with no relation to information processing machines.

However I would agree that the limit between hardware and software is yet to be defined, maybe using new names. I guess it was the same when defining political power separation.

> Hardware companies should no be allowed to make or sell or control software.

So if I, as an electrical engineer, design an implantable pacemaker for people with heart problems, they have to visit Joe's Software Shack and Live Bait to make it work?

This is just silly.

If your "implantable pacemaker" records a bunch of vital information about my heart for years, then it is not a simple "implantable pacemaker", it is an information processing device, and the sensitive information it produce and store is my own, and allowing you full control on it is a danger of potential alienation that must be mitigated.

As we do not currently have a better way[1] to ensure there will be no misuse of the power brought to you by controlling the way this information is generated, processed and stored, I would much prefer this heavy responsibility to be split between three different providers (information producer, processor, storage) communicating together according to open formats.

If your pacemaker is a piece of hardware with no sensitive information stored and not connected to the outside world, then I would not consider its "software driver" to be an information processing system (ie "real" software), and there would be no need to split responsibilities in this case. This should also answer to the "micro-wave" objections in other answers. And yes, I change the definition of "software" a little bit, so it do not include single-minded commodities drivers.

Actually, "software" is too wide on one side, and too narrow on another. A big company like Google should be understood as a software company. For me, they do not cross the line if they build their own servers for internal usage. They do cross the line, however, when they buy Motorola. The gray area would be the Nexus line and Chromebooks, which is ok to me if these products can be considered as real-life experiment for new software concepts, but not ok if they become mainstream products sold by the million of unit and if Google installs itself in a long term hardware producing activity, in parallel with its enormous presence as the software gorilla.

[1] In the same sense that "democracy is the worst regime, except for all other"

It is not just silly, it's the most stupid suggestion of the year. If you are happy to use half-working, half-baked products, feel free. I will choose those, where software is finely tuned to the hardware and this combination makes pleasurable experience.

"If you are serious about software you should make your own hardware" © Alan Kay.

This is the problem, many people choose short term pleasure against long term safety. I hope for you that you do not apply the same reasoning when you choose between cook at home and fast food.

Or maybe you'd deny obesity is a problem?

>* That is a weak workaround. There real solution is to fully recognize that information is power, and to have a separation of powers similar to the three powers of Montesquieu's. Hardware companies should no be allowed to make or sell or control software. Software companies should not be allowed to produce, sell or control hardware*

One problem is that if that weren't allowed, we'd probably never have the app in the first place...

The app was made for THAT platform, for THAT store and for THAT hardware product.

Now, one can assume but we would have gotten something like the iPhone eventually anyway, but if you see what the hardware-first companies were shipping at the time of the iPhone's launch, that might have taken 5-10 more years.

I don't mean it could only happen by Apple: just that it could only happen by a process of building things where hardware+software are given equal importance, and ONE entity calls the shots for both.

>Apple has been a leader in this industry shift.

Actually, Apple has been a follower.

Ubuntu and the Linux world in general has had app-stores long before Apple came to the party.

The Apple app-store is nothing more than a Sony'fied software repository.

Where Apple have succeeded while "The Linux scene" has floundered is, Apple have put the app-store, physically, in peoples pockets. Sony/Sharp could have done it sooner, if they'd made better hardware and been cohesive with their late-90's/early 21st-century Linux/e-Tron strategies, but make no mistake, Apple are a newcomer to the vendor-supplied online software repository scene. Albeit, a very powerful, sexy, one.

> Ubuntu and the Linux world in general has had app-stores long before Apple came to the party

You're kidding, right? The difference is that software in Linux distro repositories (which is what I assume you're referencing) is both free as in beer and open source. Which kind of makes it the opposite of what most people think of when they say "app store."

(Pre-emptive nitpick: it's true that Canonical has recently started offering commercial software via the Ubuntu Software center, but that came many years after Apple's App Store launched.)

I'm talking about the appstores/repo's as technical features of an installed operating system base. We in Linux have had the ability to easily access app-store catalogs for years; Apple have built theirs relatively recently in comparison.

And the fact that there has been free as in beer, and open source 'walled gardens' is exactly the point I'm making: Sharp could've had an app store in the 90's, they already had the repository and just needed to add a customer element; this is the only new thing Apple has added to the game. Repo's were old hat until it morphed into Appstores.

> The biggest culprit here, in my view, isn't Apple, PRC, or the patent system.

The biggest culprit are the customers that blindly accept this model to buy applications and give to such companies money to pursue their practices.

But what are they to do...?!?

Start organisations that make cool stuff, or join those that already are. If you think something is missing from the world, the best way to do something about it is to build it.

>and it can be taken away

Except this has never, ever been done to anything but malware. Not even apps that flagrantly and blatantly violated the store rules and got taken down are removed from end user devices. Not even apps which were pulled down for patent or copyright infringement.

It isn't going to happen.

Until such time as the killswitch is abused, this remains a slippery slope argument with no basis in reality.

If you're worried about your apps, back up the IPA's. You kept your //e floppies around somewhere, didn't you? Is the problem that once apps are removed from the appstore, you can't redownload them? Can you buy Oregon Trail for the original Apple 2 officially anymore?

Unless you think that Apple is immune to injunction, the mere existence of the capability to remove apps from customers' devices is a sort of attractive nuisance. Now, it could be that precedent will be established that removing infringing or other undesirable content or applications from third-party computers is not permissible. Until that precedent exists, though, the risk seems high that precedent will go the other way.

There is precedent. Not in a legal way, but in the judgement of the public. Amazon remote erased an eBook in 2009, ironically "1984", from Kindle devices because the publisher didn't have the copyright and the real copyright holder demanded it from Amazon. It was a PR nightmare! CEO Jeff Bezos had to offer a public apology to mitigate this mistake. I don't expect a big company will make this mistake again.


Google first pushed the killswitch on an App in March 2011, a trojan malware for Android, and nobody really complained. Apple on the other hand never triggered the killswitch to date. They also don't have magic powers. Make a backup the iOS device and in the unlikely event the App isn't working on a future OS update or Tim Cook is getting insane, just install the backup again.

There is precedent. Not in a legal way, but in the judgement of the public.

You say that you don't think that a big company will pull apps or content again, and then you provide an example of the same behavior from a big company (Google), where public outcry was limited.

The Amazon incident was why I said "or content" in my original comment. It's already happened more than once, as you note, and some cases prompted outcry and were reversed, and some did not and were not. But more importantly, none of these were cases where a court ordered the company to do this, and it matters far less (to Apple, Amazon, or Google) what the public thinks about an action that they were forced to do by law. They'll just shrug and provide the injunction.

Any application that requires making a backup and restoring after every killswitch usage is not going to continue to have a customer base, and therefore there will be few or no updates, and that will be that. It doesn't matter that it's technically possible to get around the problem, if having to do so reduces your audience by 95 percent.

This is already a PR nightmare for Prentke Romich and Semantic Compaction. They've shown that they don't care about public opinion (or at least broader public opinion). They have a duopoly on their (very niche) market and are going to do whatever it takes to defend it. It's absolutely possible that their next legal move will be to ask Apple to proactively remove the app from iPads and to file for an injunction if Apple does not do so voluntarily.

The capability to remove apps from customer's devices has always existed in desktops since the internet, even for those you keep in CDs, as long as you are connected and receiving OS updates.

Really. Could you provide an example of this?

It is technically possible, doesn't mean it has been done (or maybe it has, Apple issued a patch a few weeks ago to remove malware on OSX?). OS updates could install anything onto your machine, including a tool that removes/blocks whatever it wants.

It is technically possible for me to write and distribute a virus that erases anything but GPL-licensed software from the disk of any computer it infects, sends all your money to the FSF, and turns your computer off at 8pm every night to ensure you get a good night's sleep.

However, both of these scenarios aren't happening in the real world.

>and it can be taken away

Except this has never, ever been done to anything but malware.

I think Orwell might have something to say about that. Or at least, the people who (thought they had) bought his books from Amazon might:


Until such time as the killswitch is abused, this remains a slippery slope argument with no basis in reality.

The trouble isn’t just this particular killswitch. As jaysonelliot was suggesting, the really insidious problem is the general trend that even when you think you’re buying a permanent copy of a knowledge work, you are often not getting what you think you’re paying for any more. I’m not sure which is worse, the dubious business models or the fact that the simplest of commercial transactions on-line routinely comes with absurd amounts of legalese attached, but neither is a welcome development IMHO.

I’ve never personally been the victim of an app store revocation, because I saw that one coming and won’t spend my money on unsafe purchases like that. But I’ve certainly seen the damage of phone-home activation, after the boot drive of my main workstation failed. Two pieces of high-end professional software, both legally purchased on physical media by my own company (each at a four-figure price), were at risk from this. It took weeks of chasing the software companies to get the licensing/activation concerns resolved, during which time one piece of software was unusable and the other was reportedly at risk of shutting down any time. It even turned out that both of those companies had completely screwed up the registration and thought my company’s licence keys were registered to someone else, and we really did get to the point of my sending them photographs of original invoices/packaging/serial numbers in one case.

In my country, hacking into someone’s computer and causing that level of damage would surely be a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act. I believe that remote blocking of legitimately installed software by, for example, phone home activation/DRM schemes or post-sale deletion by an app store should also be considered an offence. After all, the end result is much the same. I’ve never had the chance to ask a lawyer why it isn’t (or maybe it is, perhaps even under the same legislation, but for whatever reason the culprits aren’t being prosecuted). And if it can be a criminal offence in various jurisdictions to circumvent technical measures in order to do otherwise perfectly legal things with a copyrighted work you’ve bought (OK, “licensed”, but while I appreciate the need for lawyers to be precise, we all know how most people are going to understand the transaction), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make it an offence to abuse such technical measures from the other side as well. Maybe we should have some sort of safe harbour provision to protect companies who genuinely make an innocent mistake but correct it immediately on notification, but the basic principle that abusing remote deactivation is illegal seems only fair.

>I think Orwell might have something to say about that.

Note that we're talking about Apple, not Amazon. And I doubt that it will ever happen on Amazon again either, after the PR drubbing they took after doing it the first time.

And your other anecdotes are well and good, but show me where this has happened with Apple. We're talking apps, not books.

> That software is my property. I own it

Technically, no. I'm pretty sure that if you cashed for a copy of WordPerfect on Apple II, that software was licensed to you for unlimited time use and you don't own any bit of it.

Well, this is really getting down to a philosophical level. You can't technically "own" any land at all in the United States, for example, the most you can get is unlimited use rights in perpetuity. Stop paying your property taxes for a few months and you'll find out who actually "owns" your land real quick.

All ownership is, at base, socially constructed legal artifice.

That depends. Usually, yes the person owns it, in the same way you own a book or a VHS or a DVD. Copyright law prevents you from copying your software/book (Driving licencing law prevents you from driving the car you own without doing a test for example).

This "licence" thing is usually a fiction sold to consumers by big companies to try to pull the wool over their eyes.

The license is not a fiction. It grants you powers that you would otherwise not have, only holding the installation media. For example, it grants you the right to make copies of the software - usually one for installation, one for execution and one for backup.

It does not, usually, grant you permission to make additional copies for execution on other computers (without deleting the first one).

Your use of this software is not limited by the license, it is extended. Without a license, installation media for copyrighted software has no legal value.

Vernor v. Autodesk says otherwise.

Doesn't the license granted by SfY to Maya's parents include a 'peaceful enjoyment' clause ? Such clause should hold them harmless of any claim of 3td party patent infringement. And if the infringement can't be cured, SfY should offer them a replacement solution at no cost.

It would be more correct to say that they own the physical media and a license to use the software on the media.

They're two different worlds. On one hand you have an App Store where an infinite number of copies of an application can be legally obtained even when it'd be impractical or impossible to make physical copies. This enables individuals to produce apps used by millions. How many people were able to pull of what the founders of Sierra and Elecronic Arts did back when they had to hand-copy floppies and find distribution in sparsely scattered retail stores? Then it was exceptional. Today it's almost routine.

On the down-side you have the rather transient nature of the platform where bit-rot happens much faster. Theoretically you can keep your iPad in its frozen state in perpetuity, backed up and re-imaged onto a replacement device if necessary. If you start upgrading, the half-life of applications kicks in and you're going to start losing some of them over time.

It's not clear which is better in the end.

The solution to this software problem could be to make an open-source version or one that side-steps the patents, whatever those are, as cleverly as possible. Then it can be distributed, instantly, to those who want or need it.

Even without the "app store" model, the company in question could still prevent the access to the said application by court injunction. It is not to the stage yet now, and while you can say that Apple acted prematurely, it is a matter of time that such injunction happen.

And with the App Store model, the application is took down from the store. You still have the local copy. There is no updates from the App Store anymore, but do you think there will be updates from the developer when the court injunction finally happens?

Bad laws need to be fixed.

> I'm licensing it, and it can be taken away, or I can be forced into "updates" that may change it in ways I don't want.

So, iOS apps are like web apps then?

That was the originally stated intention. iOS 1 didn't have an app market. Everything was supposed to be written in HTML5+JS and accessed via a browser.

How is an offline iPad more impractical as your 1980 computer?

(I'm against software patents, I'm against media licensing instead of ownership for the record)

I've said this before and I'll say it again. One of the villains in this piece is Apple. Many of the people reading this comment are talented engineers. What Apple needs to survive, more than anything, are talented engineers. So don't work at Apple. Don't work for companies that compromise ethics in this way.

There's a reason Microsoft has been failing to compete for a while. It's because its practices got so evil that if you got offered a job there, your friends would make ha-ha-only-serious jokes about you going to work for Darth Vader. And so the best engineers, the one with options, went looking elsewhere. We need a culture like this now around Oracle, around Apple.

I mean, take a look at this quote:

The founders of the company marketing this app are speech-language pathologists who were trained by PRC, and who used their knowledge of the Unity system to develop a Unity-like app of their own and market it in the Apple iTunes store.

If PRC was able to prove that to Apple, you hadn't read the OP but PRC had posted something about how people they trained stole their technology, would you direct the word "villain" towards Apple, PRC, or the makers of SpeakForYourself?

If I had a choice I'd keep the app on the app store. But, its important to keep a cool head and consider things objectively.

Source: http://www.facebook.com/PrentkeRomichCompany

Absent a court-ordered injuction, Apple has no obligation to read, let alone give credence to anyone's claims in this matter, and that's exactly what they should have done: let the courts sort it out. Make PRC get the injuction, don't just give it to them for free.

Exactly this. Apple is, IMHO, in the wrong here because they have acted in advance of a court decision, thereby making themselves the arbiter of a patent claim, not the courts.

Actions like this only serve to highlight the dangers with the walled-garden approach... or maybe, better said, by acting in this way, Apple makes the walled-garden of iOS a less attractive environment for developers and reduces the motivation to innovate using their platform.

Yes Apple is in the wrong but (and possibly I'm giving them too much credit in terms of their corporate unity) maybe their actions are an effort to not weaken the veracity of their own patent claims. Whereby any leniency shown by Apple in the case of other entities patent claims could be used in court against Apple when they are defending their own.

Apple has done it because they are getting 30% of the sale fee from software that is potentially infringing someone's patent. They could be sued for that quite easily if the makers of SfY went bankrupt. It's a no brainer for a corporate heirarchy to choose to pull it from the store. Doesn't make it ethically squeaky clean.

They don't have any obligation to do so, but in most case you'll probably want them to: you built an application on your own, over 6 months of your life, and a guy cracked, replicated and uploaded it. Surely you'll want his app thrown out even without having to go through court won't you?

Of course I'd love to have the other guys app taken down if it copied mine. But I'd also want to know that I'm safe against spurious claims of copying from someone else.

If I have to choose one of the two, I'd choose the latter.

I'd not want Apple to be judge, jury and executioner, because they have no legal obligation to ensure a fair, transparent and equitable process, and so the more willing they are to take unilateral action, the greater the risk for me of relying on them for income is.

In fact, given stuff like this, I'm very happy not to be dependent on any income from the app store that can be just yanked away at a moments notice without any real recourse.

But this is being handled in court. Apple was notified of this and did nothing for a while and then removed it.

"cracked" is a bit of a stretch, isn't it?

The engineers used their knowledge on speech-synthesizers to make a similar app. Just like an Airport engineer leaving Apple to build wi-fi devices, or an iPod engineer using his knowledge of hardware and interfaces to build modern thermostats. Hmmm...

> "cracked" is a bit of a stretch, isn't it?

It's not a stretch of anything because it's not in any way, shape or form a qualifier for the case at hand but an example used in making the case for "gatekeepers" acting without court orders if they believe that is for the best of their keep.

Apple's needlessly abusive design is the sole reason you don't have that choice. They reserved for themselves the power to obstruct the author's use of her own tools, which should be a human right second only to food and shelter.

Apple doesn't obstruct her from using Android.

Again, I vote that the app stays up. But you are being silly by portraying Apple as evil.

But then Microsoft never obstructed anyone from using Macs instead. That line of argumentation didn't seem to interest the courts much.

Microsoft had a monopoly, >95% market share at the time of the anti-trust suit. They deliberately blocked other OSes from manufacturers' PCs (BeOS, for instance, from Compaq's lineup). Apple may have the largest single share, but they are not in a monopoly position.

Well, iOS is also the only OS to run on iDevices. You can't switch to Android on your iPhone, you need to get a new phone altogether, just like you would've had to get a new Mac, instead of just installing another(BeOS) OS.

Actually, BeOS ran on macs. But the point remains, Apple is not in the market position to force out OS competition. They're in a position to make Their consumer device run their OS more easily than an alternate OS. They don't prevent anyone else from launching Android or Windows mobile devices, and they aren't in a position to. Their strongest anti-consumer position is the app store (in the sense that there is a gateway preventing consumer choice), but if you really care you can get around it by jail breaking, or just leave the platform. And if developers cared about their position, they should flood the android market with the apps needed to drive consumers away from iOS.

Don't Apple devices have locked bootloaders? I think it's a little disingenuous to say that Apple doesn't obstruct her from using Android when they have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure you can't run Android on an iPad. (Not to say you can't, but Apple has intentionally put up barriers to prevent it.)

I meant what I said more literally than you took it.

Apple doesn't obstruct her from using Android. She can choose not to use Apple products.

Edit: keep in mind this is what I was replying to:

They reserved for themselves the power to obstruct the author's use of her own tools, which should be a human right second only to food and shelter.

Apple doesn't own the product; they sold it to her, and shouldn't obstruct her from using it as she sees fit. Your sentiment seems to imply that no one actually buys anything from Apple, they merely rent, and Apple rightly has the final say over how the renter uses the product. I don't see how the idea that she can simply choose to use another product really makes sense unless she's renting it.

Someone probably sold you a microwave. How easy is it to install Linux on it? They haven't provided you a way to and may have even erected barriers to stop you from doing so. Wouldn't that put any and all embedded device/"appliance" manufacturer in the same boat?

As far as I know, Apple doesn't want people to think of the iPad as a "computer" but as a device or appliance.

I'm a vegetarian; I see what Apple has done as more akin to selling a microwave that detects when there's meat in it and refuses to power on. Sorry, it's not a microwave, it's a vegetable cooker.

This is a good argument.

I guess Apple should keep it in the store and take one on the chin when they get sued for millions of dollars by the patent holders. It's not like they have anything better to do.

It is important to keep a cool head and consider things objectively. That's why I think it's manipulative to inject emotion into this like the post does. It's one thing to empathize with this poor mother and quite another to consider the facts and have an honest, serious discussion. What has happened to this family is awful. There's no question about that and I feel just as bad for them as anyone. But now we can't expect anyone to keep a cool head because of the way the issue was presented. Injecting emotion into the discussion is manipulative and effectively halts any critical thinking that might have gone on otherwise.

Disagree. In the comments on HN we are free to discuss this without emotion, or referring to emotion but keeping it in check with logical arguments that respect the system, the inventor(s) and the critical user.

I find it unreasonable to expect a mother, on her personal blog, to keep the same detached sentiment when her child's literal voice is threatened.

I think the emotional price paid by this family is part of the discussion, however.

Emotion is not an inherently bad thing. It has a bad name among us geeks because it sometimes creeps into purely technical discussions where it has no place, to be sure. But when an unjust law is used to perpetrate evil - and make no mistake, that's what's happening here - the emotion of anger is entirely justified and appropriate.

A simpler explanation is that Microsoft's fortunes are tied to the PC. As that market matured, so did MS's profits. Now PC's are being disrupted by ARM/touch/mobile devices and their OS's, and MS is not dominating that area - just as Christensen's theory predicts. Of course, you'll be happier working for a company you like.

  Note 1: MS made $5.11B profit last year.
  Note 2: Apple's star is rising with the new devices.

Just a small note: MS made $5.1b in profit last quarter, and $23.1b in profit for its fiscal 2011 year.

I don't agree that public shaming is the primary reason for Microsoft's demise -- there are lots of people who are attracted to work for the least ethical firms, just like Wall Street.

But, I agree with you, there should be more shaming when working for certain companies or in certain jobs. For instance, the companies that produce internet filters that are suitable for monitoring the traffic of entire countries.

I would definitely add Google to that list as well.

Their continued support of Motorola Mobility's behaviour in abusing FRAND rules is unconscionable and has the ability to undermine the entire industry.

I really feel you are grasping straws there. Motorola is only defending itself against Microsoft's patent attack.

Except, as far as I know, Motorola is leveraging FRAND, standards necessary patents and Microsoft wasn't. There is a large difference.

How comes that the VFAT patent (held my Microsoft) is not considered FRAND?

After all, it's part of the UEFI specs, SD card specs, and so on. And what about the new exFAT stuff (required for some of the newer SD specs, SDXC or something like that)?

Microsoft certainly leverages those (esp. the VFAT stuff) against Linux in general, and Android specifically.

The VFAT patent isn't FRAND because it was just a de-facto standard that became popular because it was compatible with over 95% of desktop and laptop computers at one point in time.

Of course, you'd think that a convicted monopolist might have some obligations with respect to licensing patents essential to de-facto standards created by the same monopoly power. In today's world, unfortunately, you'd be wrong.

It is all about the dtandards body. I don't know which orgs are responsible for UEFI specs and SD format specs. It's up to the standards body to demand FRAND licensing.

There aren't any international standards that demand a vfat file system, are there? Are the vfat patents still in force, because I haven't payed anyone for those on any of my Linux systems. Is SD an ISO standard or just a consortium standard? (I don't know)

I'm not trying to say Microsoft has the cleanest hands with respect to patents, but in this case, it seems clear cut.

Quoting from Wikipedia (they link to the lawsuit):

"In October 2010, Microsoft filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Motorola alleging several patents (including two of the FAT32 file system patents) were not licensed for use in the Android operating system."

If you think these patents are valid and that Microsoft should be permitted to demand licensing for them despite the direct connection to the monopoly they abused... well, I hope you don't use FAT32 on any of your Linux systems or that you're planning to call up someone in Redmond ASAP.

There might be a difference legally, but that doesn't mean Microsofts behavior still isn't far more disgusting.

The idea that we need patents to foster innovation is a self-serving lie. Most of human progress -- everything that got us to where we are now -- happens faster the more copying everyone does.

America industrialized faster than Great Britain thanks to widespread copying -- and this saved countless human lives by lifting millions of people out of poverty faster than otherwise possible. Today China is industrializing faster still by rampant copying, and good for them.

This story is just another great example. The patent holder is reluctant to enter the iOS market because they know it will cannibalize their existing very-expensive-device market. Too bad for them. The market should punish them for being slow to serve people in the best possible way. I don't care how much they invested in the idea. That investment has zero value to customers unless it's actually being applied to serve them on the terms they want.

> The idea that we need patents to foster innovation is a self-serving lie. Most of human progress -- everything that got us to where we are now -- happens faster the more copying everyone does.

This completely misunderstands the historical reason for patents. Patents do not stifle copying: they encourage copying by transforming a permanent monopoly of secrets into a temporary monopoly of open information.

Patents were created to break the back of trade guilds. Trade guilds were organizations whose primary job was to protect (often on pain of death) trade secrets such as how to create gunpowder or how to mix a crucial sealant for a boat. Trade guilds completely stifled the advancement of technology. Patents broke them by offering a government-guaranteed but temporary legal monopoly instead of a permanent monopoly which required constant vigilance.

Trade guilds and jealously (and dangerously) guarded secrets still exist in certain trades not protected by patents. Most famously, candy-makers are notoriously vicious in protecting their secrets: indeed, Roald Dahl novelized this fact.

And we have the same situation now, don't kid yourself. If patents were to disappear tomorrow, we'd see the elimination of new generic drugs, industrial companies permanently hiding assembly secrets, and an awful lot more security through obscurity in software -- NOT good.

China's copying is not happening despite the patent system, but rather because of it. Because patents make secrets open, Chinese companies can see them and copy them (illegally). Without the patent system, companies would be extremely secretive about their processes and China would be still be in the dark ages.

[btw, if we're talking about copy cultures, the most famous one by far is Japan, which has been a copy culture for over 2000 years]

I agree that these were historical arguments for the patent system. But I don't think those arguments were entirely valid then, and they're even more suspect today.

The end of trade guild secrecy had far more to do with the advent of mass production than with the patent system. Highly trained craftsman could be organized into a guild. But large numbers of easily replaceable workers necessarily couldn't.

As for the elimination of generic drugs, the drug makers themselves argue that figuring out how to copy most new molecules is so cheap and easy that they need strong patent protection to recoup their research costs. Reverse engineering drugs is cheap and getting cheaper.

Software is not going to get more secretive without patents. It's hardly possible that it could -- almost all commercial source code is already treated like trade secrets. The implication that software developers actually utilize techniques gleaned from patent applications is pretty far-fetched.

Security-by-obscurity is orthogonal to the issue of patents. All the peer-reviewed security algorithms that actually get used are unencumbered by patents, which is precisely why they actually get used. (The slow adoption of elliptic curve cryptography has been blamed on the existence of certain patents.) There's no incentive to design your own crypto algorithm and keep it secret -- that's unnecessarily expensive and stupidly risky. People share these techniques out of self interest, not because they enjoy patent protection.

The cost of spreading information continues to plummet. Conversely, the cost of keeping secrets continues to increase. I don't think the premise of a permanent monopoly of secrecy is remotely plausible. Even military technology (which of course relies only on secrecy, not patent protection) seems to proliferate on time scales shorter than patent lifetimes, though this is a hard contention to prove.

This is correct and I agree with all your statements except for the last: China's copying is not _illegal_. China is not subject to US law. US Patents prevent copying _in the US_, but this restriction doesn't apply within China. You could argue that the uninhibited copying in China is depriving Americans of rightful patent license revenue, but that's still a matter of morality and not legality.

No, for the most part it IS illegal in China. That fact is used by government officials to extort bribes from vendors. When it suits their purposes, the government will pick out a pirate they don't like and literally shoot him in the head, giving themselves something to point at when accused by developed nations of soft on piracy and ensuring that rest of the pirates will keep the bribes coming.

Exporting copied products back to the US is illegal, though, by my understanding.

There is a particular issue with software though. A software patent for the one-click-buy is more like a patent for explosive powder, rather than the exact composition of gunpowder. It is more like a drug to reduce brain swelling, which would not be patentable because the implementation is not obvious. With software, there are many ways to implement the same feature, so you can implement something in an entirely novel way and yet infringe a patent.

Patenting the workings of an internal combustion engine is one thing, patenting a horseless carriage is another.

I think the main problem is that the length of protection is far too long for the IT industry - something more like three to five years would be more appropriate in my opinion given how fast it changes. And then there is also the problem that most software patents should fail the prior art or obviousness tests, but it costs so much to fight them that most companies settle...

Paraphrasing: "Justice in the U.S. costs too much". That doesn't sound very just, and is a larger problem than patents even.

Here in Uruguay, lawyers are much cheaper but justice is extremely slow (also not good).

Blaming the patent mess on the Chinese is misguided. If a company felt harmed by a cheap version (that is branded clearly) then that might be a good time to reevaluate there business strategy. After that, go to the ITC for an injunction to protect their lack of market success.

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;" - US Constitution Section 8

At the time of the writing of the Constitution something was needed to help spur innovation. It was written in the time of inventions like the cotton gin (easily copied 100x over by anyone who bought 1). But make no mistake, patents and copyrights have been implemented solely to help improve society as a whole since day 1. Enriching inventors is a by product of the desire to push science and art forward, not the raison d'être.

Now it seems that patents, taken as a whole, inhibit innovation. Most entrepreneurs view patents as an obstacle to be overcome, not a reward for their efforts.

I think it's time we either abolish them or vastly raise the bar on what it requires to get a patent. We have several orders of magnitude too many patents on the books today.

There are other alternatives.

Have you ever wondered why bands are allowed to "cover" other bands music without any kind of prior permission? It is because the US Congress wrote something called a compulsory license into the copyright law. Music was thought too important to our culture to allow one person to have control over a new song.

I say it is time we brought the idea of a compulsory license to patents.

It's definitely the case that Congress should take action on non-practicing entities being able to put up a tollbooth on others efforts; there is no way that qualifies as promoting the useful arts and sciences.

I'm of the opinion that a patent that has not been reduced to practice should be regarded as ineligible for any enforcement action. If you can't make it work, you should not be able to tax the people who did make it happen. And you definitely should not be able to prevent certain technological developments using the legal system just to protect your existing business.

That is definitely a good idea, but what about the patents that are so blatantly vague or obvious, that many people are unknowingly violating them. It seems it's easier to prove non-infringement rather than prior art with most software patents.

The patent grant puts the burden of proof on the alleged infringer, on the theory that a granted patent has been pre-vetted for all the right criteria. But when I look at patent litigation, it seems (and perhaps this is a selection bias problem) that in most cases, about 90% of the patent claims get immediately thrown out. Doesn't it seem that the presumption that the patent grant is a strong enough process to force the burden of proof onto the infringer is just a social mistake? If the burden of proof shifted to the patent holder, it would totally change patent litigation, while maintaining all the abilities we applaud about the patent system -- the ability of a patent holder to sue an infringer who stole their idea, and get compensated.

Patent claims get thrown out because that's how patents are designed. The idea is to break your invention down into an onion of claim layers so that when it comes to court, if a claim is thrown out as being partially or totally invalid, it's just like peeling as small a layer off the onion as possible. The point is that you can't be sure exactly where the court are going to stop peeling, but by breaking it down into layers you can be more sure that there'll be something useful left when they do, and you minimise the risk of their going too far. I don't think that strategy is dependent on which direction the burden of proof lies.

Could you imagine having to pay a compulsory license to use something like Amazon's patented one-click ordering? There's nothing so horribly wrong with the patent model; there's something wrong with the system that decides one-click is worthy of patent protection.

You would not be required but would have the privilege of licensing Amazon's patent. As it is now Amazon can prevent anyone from duplicating there patent for 20 years.

The US constitution section is much better than the closest bit of the EU equivalent (Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). It just say (Article 17.2): "Intellectual property shall be protected.".

No limits, no greater good…

Ok, I've read it twice. I'm not sure I understand the argument. It reads like the argument is "This technology helps handicapped people so you shouldn't allow it to be patented." Is that a reasonable argument? PRC seems to have a valid patent, they sell a device the people in the article could use, Speak For Yourself infringed without a license and they are the good guys why?

The patent argument would go, "PRC figured out how to do this thing (invented it), we give them a limited monopoly so that they will continue to invest in doing things like this."

Now I completely agree that if there is litigation in progress that it's uncharitable for Apple to pull the app without a court order but it is their playground. And as everyone points out its not like they reach out and delete it on your iPad (which is why VLC still lives on mine btw)

So what exactly is the question?

I'm not sure that the argument is the important part of this article; a lot of it was about lamentation. The author admits to having little knowledge of patent laws, and is offering their story for perspective.

As far as I can tell there were two points being made:

1. Apple might have been premature in pulling the app from the App Store. Not being under any immediate legal obligation to block the app, nor a ruling on whether there was infringement.

2. It might be unethical to go as far as having the app removed from the store this early on in their litigation. That move might take speech away from people who depend on Speak for Yourself.

I'm not saying those are good arguments, but they are what they are.

Also worth noting is the cost of SfY vs PRC products:

- The Speak for Yourself app cost $190, on top of the price of an iPad. The least expensive PRC product is $2,595. It seems geared towards the very young, or otherwise those with a fairly limited speech/thought faculties, hence they call it "SpringBoard Lite". The rest of PRC's products range from $7500 - $15,000.

I mention the prices because I wondered why the author couldn't just go buy one of PRC's products. They may be prohibitively expensive.

>I mention the prices because I wondered why the author couldn't just go buy one of PRC's products. They may be prohibitively expensive.

He covered that: He said that he'd spoken with PRC and Maya couldn't use their device (PRC's).

Ah, thanks, I missed that bit.

So you think it's good practice for Apple to pull apps based simply on an accusation of patent infringement by a competitor?

Yes, it's Apple's playground. But that doesn't mean they won't receive bad PR, lost sales, and a public backlash based on a boneheaded policy.

In this case? Probably no. Generally? Yes.

You clone my app (that I've spent months creating) and sell it for 0.99 instead on 2.99. Now, I'm not rich and can't afford a lawyer or a lengthy lawsuit; it would ruin me. I want your app removed from the store NOW, and the manager of the store MUST have the right to judge what is right or wrong without a court order (that could take months and ruin businesses).

Why can't I clone your app? Who said the first person to do anything has the right to it forever?

Isn't Pepsi a clone of Coke? It's not exactly the same recipe, but functionally it's pretty damn close.

> PRC seems to have a valid patent, they sell a device the people in the article could use, Speak For Yourself infringed without a license and they are the good guys why?

The question of whether or not they've infringed is currently being litigated, so it's premature for you to say "Speak For Yourself infringed". And, therefore, it's premature for Apple to have removed the app. Does this mean you can take any app off of the store just by making a claim against it?

It's not just "uncharitable" for Apple; the action they took hurts people. And the "it's their playground" argument is getting old--yes, it's their playground, but it's perfectly reasonable for the rest of us to have (and discuss) our own opinions about how they run it.

This has a come up a couple of times, but I'll bring it up specificially:

"... the action they took hurts people. "

Yes and no. So my experience has been with VLC and App in the app store where the question of its 'open sourceness' came up and Apple removed it from the App store. I have it, I got it when it was there, and its still on my iPad, sync after sync, upgrade after upgrade, even from one device to another. It didn't go away and Apple didn't 'forward delete' it from my device. I suppose they could but they did not. Its not clear at all that they have made any move to delete anyone's SfY app either, they removed it and new users can't down load it, and the SfY gals get no revenue because it isn't being sold. So it hurts people who don't yet have it, and it hurts the SfY folks who might need that revenue to pursue their legal case, but it won't 'silence' Maya if here parents back up her iPad AFAICT. None of the articles linked mention that Maya's version of the App is in danger of being deleted, and it shouldn't be. Even if you buy a patent infringing device, the manufacturer can be banned from selling them but they cannot be forced to take yours back and destroy it.

The problem is that putting patents and similar legal steps exclusive ownership of ideas in place doesn't guarantee that they'll be used in the best ways.

Personally I think that patents and similar should be treated as property, and licensing should be required. The patent owner sets the price and it's taxed yearly based upon that price, whether products are made or not. This is similar to how real estate taxes are done in many places.

Also, at some large multiple of the price, it's possible to buy out the patent, putting it in the public domain. This way truly useful things deliver a windfall to their creators, or are licensed (possibly for much longer than patent protection allows today) creating recurring revenue.

A more sensible idea would be to just disallow software patents and patents on business methods. Like in the European Union.

Not patentable are:

"discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods;

aesthetic creations;

schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers;

presentations of information."

Perhaps SfY is seen as the good guys as they've been able to deliver a quality product at an attractive price point, on commodity hardware? As compared to thousands of dollars for clunky hardware? Not to mention that patents are generally harmful, and this patent does not seem to be contributing anything truly groundbreaking...

"This technology helps handicapped people so you shouldn't allow it to be patented."

To me you would just need to remove a few words : "technology shouldn't be patented".

At the very worst, patents should be allowed to last for 6 to 12 months, not 10 years.

clicking glyphs on a screen and having a device speak the words the glyphs represent is patent worthy? It's a perfect parallel to ASL. And there's enough social utility that we should help companies gouge parents $8k a pop [1] instead of $400 ipad + $unknown for software?

[1] http://store.prentrom.com/

"It's a perfect parallel to ASL."

Untrue. ASL is its own, unique language with distinct vocabulary, syntax, morphology and grammar. It's actually of significant interest to linguists due to the interesting spatial frames that appear to be unique to visual language.

However, this mechanism for communication does parallel books that have been used for years and electronic devices involving Bliss symbols (a paper from 1981 describing this: http://www.speech.kth.se/prod/publications/files/qpsr/1981/1...)

"clicking glyphs on a screen and having a device speak the words the glyphs represent is patent worthy?"

I wouldn't think so, this patent is #5,920,303 which relates to a way of making is easy and efficient to access a large vocabulary from a screen with limited space. Reading through the patent just now I wouldn't say it is particularly obvious that this would be the best way to go about things. Its got about 5 years left in its lifetime.

Is it possible the folks at SfY saw one of PRC's devices and say "Hey would could code that up in an App!" and didn't check to see if it was patented? I don't know, just reading and wondering.

Finding a patent triples your vulnerability to infringement claims, and since the USPTO is rubber-stamping overbroad garbage rather than sanely enforcing the novelty and non-obviousness requirements, the answer to "is this patented?" is basically always yes.

Edit: I'm not claiming that this particular patent is invalid (I can't safely read it, of course), only that invalid patents are so prevalent and dangerous that merely looking has a huge negative expected value for any practitioner.

I agree, but there are times when you might want to check. So "Speak For Yourself" was founded by two Speech Pathologists [1] and they have been working with Autistic children for years. PRC's product seems to be the market leader (and of course its patented) and perhaps in part because it is patented it is very expensive. They had to have seen one, I expect they have even used them, and I would speculate they thought "gosh these are too expensive we could make an iPad app that is much cheaper."

Now if you are going to develop something, and it seems "easy" to do, and the existing product is expensive. I think a quick patent check is in order before you start. Here is a very real tale from my own life.

My sister owns a treadmill, its boring to walk on it, she and I both have iPads, she said "I'm sure you could whip out an app that would play a video of a walk that I like while I'm walking on the treadmill, that would be so cool, I'm sure lots of people would love it." I agreed, and the new iPad has bluetooth support that is compatible with various pedometers, so I figure hey, we can even tie the video to the walk and if we encode it in a street viewish way you could turn your iPad left or right and see various scenes along your route. Then we could TaskRabbit folks to 'take a hike' where something which is a cross between a Hero2 HD and a disco ball, and put together walks. Cool idea right? (well I thought so) and I wondered why the hell isn't this already out there? And there are kinda sorta things out there, and there are very expensive screens for treadmills out there. So I thought, why not check the patent database. Sure enough the whole space around exercising + video has the CRAP patented out of it. With feedback, without feedback, with advertising, without, on treadmills, on bikes, on rowing machines, on simulated ornithopters. Basically that is why that App doesn't and won't exist for another 10 years. It sucks, and the people who own the patents are leaving a lot of money on the table since they overprice their products because they 'can.' And in 2022 all that stuff will be free and clear and everyone will have one.

So you do your research, you figure out a way to do what you want to do which doesn't infringe. Document it. And then you go to market.

[1] http://www.speakforyourself.org/About_Us.php

I'd argue that any "invention" that falls into the "wouldn't it be neat if..." domain is obvious, and under existing law should be rejected outright as the basis for a patent.

In this particular instance, was you sister "skilled in the art" of developing treadmills or software? If not, and it's obvious her her, chances are it's blindingly obvious to someone who is skilled in those arts, and presumably works in those fields.

Dynamic keyboard and method for dynamically redefining keys on a keyboard [1]

[1] http://www.google.com/patents?id=SRQZAAAAEBAJ&printsec=f...

In fairness, nobody has mentioned what patent is allegedly infringed here. I'd be curious to see it.

It is the one I mention above.

What's so special about this application that a concerted week of coding could not duplicate? It seems like a list of icons, and when you touch an icon a word is spoken. There is a facility to add new icons. The application also seems to permanently fix the location of each "learned" icon, so that as the child grows their vocabulary consists of an expanding set of "muscle memory" movements. There is also a facility to flag attempts to add duplicate icons. [1]

Have I missed something here?

[1] http://www.speakforyourself.org/About_The_App.html

Edit: Some interesting links:

Open Source Assistive Technology Software: http://www.oatsoft.org/

A collection of 5000 pictograms, necessary for an AAC application, licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA: http://www.oatsoft.org/Software/arasaac-pictograms/


pVoice, open source Augmentative and Alternative Communication: http://www.oatsoft.org/Software/pvoice

Is there an android app for this? Software that allows people to speak shouldn't be patented. Or if it is, it should be licensed for $1.

"What's so special about this application that a concerted week of coding could not duplicate?"

I wondered about that, although I am not a programmer. Thanks for the pictogram reference!

Please base the project outside the US, and build it for Android/Linux!

There seem to be three parts: 1) Are PRC and Apple morally wrong for enforcing and not fighting patent claims? 2) Should patents work in a way that incentivizes PRC and Apple to behave this way? 3) Irrespective of (1) or (2) what can be done?

(1) The answer to this is somewhat ambiguous for any company with investors. Sure, I want my companies to behave in morally responsible ways. On the other hand, there are hundreds of other ways to save and improve lives. If we wanted the companies we invest in to maximize quality of life improvement we would get much further providing vaccinations or microloans to the third world where owning an iPad is as much a pipe dream as winning the lottery (per unit money, energy, whatever). If we want larger public access to scientific advances, perhaps we should fund more public science? Or, we should change the way patents work (2).

(2) This to me seems like a very reasonable question. Aside from patent wars that might hurt your favorite smartphone os vendor, there are real concerns. Drug companies are incentivized to create substances and methodologies that drastically improve the quality and duration of lives in both first and third world countries. On the other hand, intellectual property protection for drugs (until they become generics) does cost lives. But we shouldn't forget just how powerful those incentives are. All the awesome research done in university laboratories (one of which I work in) is nothing without the ability to take a drug from "lab-rat plausible" to "market-ready". Certainly patents don't exist to facilitate personal wealth. But just because they do generate wealth doesn't mean that their intended goal has been forgotten, short-term losses notwithstanding.

Even if we answered (1) and found PRC or Apple to be morally culpable, it misses the larger issue: if society feels that this girl, or others who benefit from patented technology should be allowed to use it, someone's got to pay. Either it's the companies and their investors (the obvious point: not just rich folks), or it's taxpayers through some form of state-sponsored licensing (edit: or some other state-funded mechanism). It's tremendously easy to blame only Apple and PRC (even if they did deserve it). It's a lot harder to put your money on the line, so that families like this one can solve a heartbreaking problem.

This would all be pertinent if the software patents in question were actually novel inventions worthy of protection.

One of the patents is for a "method for dynamically redefining the keys on a keyboard". I mean, come on.

Are you seriously judging a patent by its title? This patent requires a touchscreen and a context-sensitive memory with strings of text. It's not just a keyboard mapper. http://www.google.com/patents/US5920303?hl=en

The key is, was that novel when the patent was first filed?

Given that xmodmap has been around since the 80s, probably not.

The fourth part is where Apple are acting in place of the judiciary. Taking the article at its word, Apple have taken and enforced a "guilty until proven innocent" stance with respect to their own suppliers and customers. Ignoring for a moment how bizarrely arrogant that is, there's a very good reason we rely on independent judges and juries to get these questions right.

Yes, the same approach is taken for example by Facebook. If there's a complaint, Facebook will first freeze an account and only unfreeze it after the dispute is resolved (by the parties themselves or legally through court). Shoot-first-ask-later approach.

I don't know why this is prevalent approach, since 90% of the time it's the big companies initiating disputes. So small companies are taking the hit.

My guess is that it's laywers being paranoid. If Apple didn't stop the app from being distributed when they were notified of a problem and a court later upheld the complaint, they might be sued for contributory infringement, or whatever the relevant patent term is.

We have a solution for this: preliminary injection.

IANAL, so perhaps this is still opening up for lots of liability, but I'd much prefer Apple say "You want it taken down? Ask the judge for a preliminary injunction. Until then, go away."

Preliminary injunctions are the due process mechanism for causing the action to cease while it's litigated rather than continue. They, not Apple's whim/decision/liability-aversion, should be how this kind of thing happens IMO.


"or it's taxpayers through some form of state-sponsored licensing"

Why do you say taxpayers must pay the license fee? A company might be happy to pay a royalty on a patent but as it is now patent law allows a patent holder to prevent anyone from making or using a patented invention - in other words they could sue Maya directly for infringement. Music copyright law, which issues from the exact same clause in the constitution as patent law, provides for a compulsory license of any song. A band knows before hand exactly how much it will cost to "cover" someone's song.

If you are found to be infringing a patent your financial exposure is almost un-bounded. If there were a compulsory license provision in patent law like their is in music copyright, companies would know exactly how much they were risking if found to be infringing a patent

I don't know exactly how patents work for drugs, but I don't believe that you can patent an already existing (generic) drug, but in pills colored red and blue, for example. And another patent for yellow pills. And another and another. Alas, in the software industry this is very much possible (and being done every day).

That's definitely false. You might be able to patent a new delivery mechanism or something, turn a generic into a gel capsule and patent that maybe, but the important thing is that once the generic drug passes out from under its patents anyone can create it.

To use an analogy with razors: I might not be able to make a razor with 4 blades and a cushioning lotion pad above and below because Gillette will sue me, but I can make a razor with three blades set in plastic because it's been so long since that innovation came along. It might not be as snazzy and hence less profitable, but it gets the job done.

And if you own a drug patent, you can continually extend the patent via a process called "evergreening". Pharmaceutical companies make minimal changes and get patent extensions. These changes can include the color or flavor of medicine. It's illegal in many other nations, but here in the US... And we wonder why we pay so much for medicine.

Patents as they work today seem to curtail progress at every turn.

> Pharmaceutical companies make minimal changes and get patent extensions. These changes can include the color or flavor of medicine.

So? Other companies are free to make the unchanged version after the original patent expires.

If some companies are unwilling to make drugs unless there's some sort of monopoly, what does that tell you about what they'll do if there's no way to get a monopoly?

>So? Other companies are free to make the unchanged version after the original patent expires.

No they're not. You misunderstand; the original patent doesn't expire. It's EXTENDED. The original drug does not go into any public domain to be manufactured or built on by other companies.

Many drug manufacturers make generic drugs, but that number has decreased, which has led to behavior like the larger original drug manufacturers. I won't allege outright collusion, but it's crazy when everyone in an industry starts agreeing at one time that a medicine isn't profitable... Leaving a strong demand and opportunity for any one of them to step in and clean up... And no one does.

And before anyone wants to jump into the cost of research, some pharma businesses like GSK, spend about twice on sales and business costs than they do research[0]. And then there's the amount they DO contribute that gives patenting applicability to mostly public research.

It's quite depressing.


Around page 136, I think.

> the original patent doesn't expire. It's EXTENDED.

Really? I can find no indication that US patent law allows for extension of patents at all except as a result of delays caused by the USPTO or regulatory delays (e.g. reviews by the FDA).

Everything I've seen about evergreening has been tied to filing new patents covering things like delivery systems to make it harder to produce a generic that doesn't infringe, and frustrating competitors by threats of lawsuits over trademarks, marketing, packaging etc.. None of that would be necessary if they were able to just obtain an extension on the original patent.

You're right, I'm wrong! There is indeed a notable difference between ACTUALLY extending, and "de facto" extending of a patent, by patenting a slightly different aspect of the same drug, such as delivery, or changing a trivial aspect like color or labeling and re-patenting the same drug. One is a use of a bad system, one is misuse of a system.

Thank you for pointing out what I wasn't able to push through my thick skull!

> some pharma businesses like GSK, spend about twice on sales and business costs than they do research[0].

Marketing and sales costs include free and discounted drugs for poor people. It also includes costs for educating doctors?

You clearly think that too much spending on things other than research is wrong. So, how much spending on the things that I listed (which comes under the categories that you complained about) is too much?

Now that you understand more about how patents work, my question about generics still stands. Pfizer wants you to buy new improved lipitor but there's no patent protection on old lipitor. Pfizer's lipitor sales just dropped 71% and (IIRC), they're dropping prices.

Sorry. I didn't see this reply.

I don't thing spending money on marketing (or other things that research) is "wrong", I only tried to curtail what I typically see of cries as "Oh, but they spend so much money on R&D!" "So much" is relative, and speaking relatively, they don't.

A popular tactic for "educating doctors" is hiring locally recognized TV reporters/anchors looking to get out of their business to press flesh and hock pills in doctor's offices as sales people. That may include "educating" but it's definitely also "marketing". Some people probably get a few doses of helpful medicine this way. I don't deny.

But how much is too much? When every nightly newscast is full of vague commercials to the point where even some people in perfect health know which drugs do what, and the potential side effects? I think that's probably a bit much overkill. Especially considering many others will just know "Ohhh, that's the one that makes you sleep good and has a lightning bug in the commercial!"

Also, I looked up Lipitor. It was patented in 1987. Generics were set to enter the market in 2009, but were stopped after Pfizer sued. The generics won, then Pfizer sued again and Pfizer won, then generics sued again, and Pfizer settled out of court. So now, 25 years after the filing of a patent designed to last 20 years, generics enter the market. I don't understand, what was your question about generics?

It's been a long time the patent game is not about innovation anymore. The review process for granting patent fails to be transparent. And patents should never be made to last so long in the first place.

3) Irrespective of (1) or (2) what can be done?

I don't know about the broader problem, but for the present situation my first thought was that someone should make a clone of the app that can be sideloaded onto an Android tablet. That's an (almost) immediate fix, but unfortunately it's hardly a solution. It seems like it could only be distributed to one or a few people before it risked similar lawsuits, and there's the long term to think about, too. Besides just OS updates, what will happen as kids using this software grow? For some, but not everyone, reading will open new avenues for communication. For others, ongoing development to increase sophistication seems necessary.

Does anyone know if Speak for Yourself is still available outside the US, where patents are saner? I tried looking, but couldn't figure out how to search iTunes from the website.

> someone's got to pay

I don't believe that. The app has been made, the app has been purchased, and it's not taking away from PRC's sales because PRC's devices are not an option.

I also dislike this culture in that everything has to have monetary value. If my house and food was provided for me, I'd love to develop apps like this for free, because in life, helping others is far more important than material gain.

> I'd love to develop apps like this for free

Many of us would, but we don't have time exactly because our houses and food aren't provided for us.

You miss the main point, that software shouldn't be patentable in the first place. Software patents can't possibly serve any positive purpose.

There is no moral justification for patents. Period. There can be no actually moral argument that says "you are not allowed to think of the same thing this other fellow did and then trade it with someone."

Patents are a form of feudalism. The very word "patent" is rooted in feudalism, where it used to be "land patents" that were granted to the landholders in the middle ages.

You misunderstand patents. Despite what is reported every so often, you cannot patent abstract concepts: only specific ways to execute upon those concepts. The title of a patent is irrelevant, but it is the title that gets the press.

Patents do not disallow you to think of certain things and they do not disallow you to share those thoughts. They only disallow you to implement a specific solution to a specific problem, for a specific period of time. Patents get struck down for being too broad.

If having to be struck down is the problem, then look at the justice system, not the patent system.

>Despite what is reported every so often, you cannot patent abstract concepts: only specific ways to execute upon those concepts.

That was true only up until software patents were approved. In software, there is no hard and fast line between concept and execution. Without a physical product, the concept is the execution.

No, you misunderstand ethics. There is and can be no ethical principle that bans you from creating a physical object that happens to be similar to an object someone else created, unless you had explicitly consented to being bound to an agreement where you would refrain from doing so.

And you misunderstand patents as well, but that's not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is that you cannot make an ethical case for patents, on the contrary, they are a gross usurpation of a human being's right to create and trade. This is obvious to anyone who ignores the propaganda they were taught in high school.

  There is and can be no ethical principle [..]
I wasn't addressing the ethical part of your claim at all, but since you insist: there can be a moral argument in favor of patents. It goes like this:

* Corporations are legal entities that are allowed because they were expected to, and have been shown to, advance our average wellbeing

* Corporations more effectively increase our average wellbeing if they are encouraged to heavily invest in innovation. They receive this encouragement by allowing them temporary monopolies on their inventions, thus enabling them to profit from their investment

* On average, the population profits: they have more free time, more money, a better health and can engage in 'creating and trading' all they want, except for a few specific instances that have been sacrificed in order to enable them to have these resources and this wellbeing in the first place

It's a trade-off our government made for us, in the belief it would be a net benefit. Things seems to have taken a wrong turn somewhere, but the original intent of the patent system was for the public good. That is a valid moral argument. Which doesn't mean you have to agree with it.

This is completely wrong. Patents are supposed to protect small or individual inventors from having their work ripped off by larger manufacturers. Large companies are not the reason we have patents. They don't need patents because they're hard to compete with anyway. Patents are for the good of society by helping individuals, not by helping large corporations.

Corporation != large corporation. A small neighbourhood family shop is a corporation if they've legally separated their personal and business finances, which is usually advisable. Limiting individual liability and being able to share ownership were the original reasons for allowing corporations. This is true for small and large corporations.

Corporations also exist for the good of society. They allow individuals to limit their liability and share a risk with others. Patents are granted to individuals, but those individuals are free to bequeath them to the corporations they are part of. Or they have freely signed an agreement that they will bequeath them to the corporation.

Now I agree the original reason for patents wasn't to encourage corporations to do R&D. I only gave a nutshell outline of the argument: I wasn't trying to be historically, philosophically or legalistically thorough, so I don't think this kind of criticism is very appropriate. I'll happily admit being wrong, but it is certainly not 'completely wrong': corporations were never restricted from being granted patents, even though that has been suggested. The common argument is the same argument given for individuals: protect the inventor or his corporation.

Neither corporations nor patents came into being with immoral intentions. Both ideas have actually proven quite successful. Unfortunately, we are now seeing some excesses of (the combination of) them that suggest the rules need to be changed.

This is horribly embarrassing argument. It's a blatant post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy. What's worse is that it ignores the central point: the cost of your system is that individuals who think of an idea that happens to match one that is patented by one of these corporations gets the tar beaten out of him if he tries to use/trade it. You can't justify this violence, you can only try to sweep it under the rug, as you have attempted to do here.

Speaking of embarrassing, you're embarrassing people who advocate against patents, with your incoherent vehemence. The comments you've been responding to have been civil and contributory to the conversation, and your responses, I think, have been less than civil and perhaps not very well-crafted towards contribution.

If the rest of this comment appears to be a personal attack, I apologize; I would ask that it be read as an analysis of the above thread, with an eye to improving future discourse.


The fact is, people DO make arguments of a moral nature in favour of patents. And last I checked, there's no gold standard in validity of moral arguments. Your opening salvo ("no moral justification for patents, period") is interpretable as either a claim about the behaviour of humans, or a claim about universal ethics; that would make it obviously false or obviously laughable, respectively.

You ALSO, in your opening salvo, misrepresented patents ("you are not allowed to think of... and then trade..."), and Confusion fairly-politely tried to help you out. You replied with "No, you misunderstand ethics", which aside from being a rude escalation of conflict is also a non sequitur (since the use of "No" implies you're replying to his/her content, which you weren't).

THEN, Confusion was again polite and outlined a moral argument which has been taken by many participants in the broader societal discussion about patents, including the ones who make the laws in several countries over a few hundred years. She/he was even clear that the consequences alleged by this argument, with respect to the public good, appear to be at least partially divergent from the consequences observed in reality, AND explicitly pointed out that the argument isn't unassailable ("That is a valid moral argument. Which doesn't mean you have to agree with it.").

I think any reasonable observer would agree that there IS a moral argument in favour of patents. It has some premises that not everyone agrees with (e.g. a sort of utilitarian framework). It also contains some contentious claims about the interaction between incentive structures and behaviour (e.g. inventors wouldn't invent, AND/OR drug companies wouldn't do FDA testing, without patent "protection"), which are clearly hard to test the truth of, and many reasonable people disagree about to what extent they are true. (I myself find the "drug company" argument very persuasive (I agree with kevinalexbrown above), and the "inventor" argument highly suspect (I mostly agree with you, below, in your comment about Tesla and Torvalds), but the point is that intelligent thoughtful people (or even HN commenters) can disagree about these things.

Hopefully I don't have to go into detail about how opening a post with "This is horribly embarrassing argument." is nothing more than verbal abuse.

And your shot about post hoc ergo propter hoc is a little missing the point: while some crazy person COULD say "look we got an internet because of the patent system, therefore we were right about patents", and I take your point about that hypothetical argument being an instance of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, I don't think anybody actually does make that argument. We all know we haven't sampled the universe in two states, and we all know that we're arguing about untested hypotheticals (about what WOULD happen with less patents or more patents, and about what WOULD HAVE happened in the past say 50 years).

And one last complaint about your rhetoric: while I acknowledge that ultimately any law (at least in all extent societies) is ultimately backed up by threat of violence, and thus in some sense law is violence, it's ludicrous to conflate the enforcement of near-consensus with violence. Unless you literally meant violence, and literally meant "gets the tar beaten out of him", in which case of course we all know that's not what happens to those who lose in patent fights. What happens is that profits that they have taken, which are judged by the courts to have been earned in violation of the framework of law, are taken away, and/or they are required to make good profits that they have been judged to have unfairly denied to others. Much as other proscribed commercial activity (e.g. fraudulent product misrepresentation, e.g. cartels) would be penalized. So, either way, your phrasing about violence is at best a distraction, at worst a falsehood.


The thing is, it's weird having to write this little attack on your little attacks, because I agree that the first-world patent system has raged dysfunctionally out of control, and is stifling innovation rather than promoting it. (That's ALL it's doing wrong, mind you, because if you stick to 30-year-old products and technologies, you'll never notice this stuff. But I want to live in the FUTURE, never mind the present!) But I think the argument is narrower than you make it seem (again, consider drug companies), and I think we could afford to keep it more civil than I read you to have done, at least among basically-reasonable people.

Hopefully I have myself managed to avoid destructive incivility.

Next time you're seething with rage that someone crossed your arbitrary line about what you mistakenly think is "civil", save your breath and save your energy.

As to your silly play by play, it's all just your own self-serving spin. You have some bogus theory of civility that you mindlessly cling to as if it were a religion, it's a wrong theory, and that's really all the substance there is to your "criticism." I see your remarks in the same way as I'd see a religious zealot reading me the riot act over violating one of his beloved precepts.

If inside of that babbling rant of yours there is something you actually consider to be a reasonable disagreement, not with my style, but with the logic of my point, then go ahead and point it out without ranting and I'll try to elaborate for you.

One more thing. I regard patents as nearly tantamount to cannibalism: patent trolls eat the efforts of honest, productive people. I don't think gentle words are appropriate and civilized for cannibalism proper, nor for the evil of patents. On the contrary, to treat these leeches as if they were somehow being reasonable is the height of being counter-produtive.

The trolls don't mince words: they readily call it "theft" if you happen to be using something they patented. If we mince words then we loose from the very start, for the moral argument is the most powerful.

Which is precisely why you try to turn it on me given all your hypocritically impolite scolding about me not being polite enough for your tastes. If you're opposed to moralizing, don't moralize, not even about people who moralize.

Do you realize that, regardless of how it's abused now, in a world with zero patents no little guy would ever be paid for his idea? Big companies could just see the idea, realize the value and task 100 people with copying it exactly.

Further no company would bother with R&D because as soon as they make a breakthrough everyone else will simply steal the idea and sell for pennies more than cost of production. R&D costs could never be recouped so no one would ever do it again.

> no little guy would ever be paid for his idea

That's always the rhetoric but in practice patents usually protect big companies at the expense of the little guy. This is especially true in software, where getting the patent is generally a lot more expensive than creating the invention. Only the big companies can afford to file patents for every little trick of coding they come up with.

And for all types of inventions, it's generally very expensive to litigate.

All sorts of inventive software was created before there were software patents, so empirically, it's clear that in this business at least we don't need patents.

Men who have minds large enough to envision the kinds of ideas that would deserve a patent (if patents were moral) are precisely the kind who would invent regardless of whether they could get one. See Nicola Tesla or the many scientists throughout history who have achieved great things without having a carrot and a stick. Or see Linus Torvalds.

The kind of men who refuse to engage themselves in creation without being prodded are the kind who patent most of the trivial ideas we see patented today.

I'm sorry but this is just not true. You say the kind of people who deserve a patent would do the work either way and then you suggest a handful of people. Many, many people have created things for the purpose of making money. Your world would eliminate people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Later in life, when Jobs had billions, he didn't seem to care about money anymore but in the beginning Apple tried everything. They even had a clothing line.

As for your examples, Linus didn't invent. He made a version of an existing OS and started with an existing version of a copy of that OS. He did it for fun, but one must also recognize that he's gained a tremendous amount by this seemingly "benevolent" action. Fresh out of college he could take much more interesting jobs than most people with his background could. His "gift" ended up being a loss leader for his career.

So if we were reliant on only having people like Tesla to push us forward we'd be nowhere near where we are today. Tesla was brilliant but there are just far too few people who think and work as he did.

"Your world would eliminate people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates."

You've got to be kidding. Do you know nothing about the history of software?

"If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today."--Bill Gates

"that's the great thing about internet, you can make up quotes, and attribute it to others" --abraham lincoln

so, please cite.

Please use Google instead of posting mindless sarcasm.


please provide citations and don't expect people to clean up after you. and still it's a hearsay, no link to memo (although internal)

"please provide citations and don't expect people to clean up after you. and still it's a hearsay, no link to memo"

Who do you think you are that you can tell people on what terms they can cite a quote from the New York Times? No, I am not going to do a scientific research paper tracing the historical roots of this oft-cited (in reputable media) quote.

Please take your head and pull it out of your ass.

you can suck my dick then

Tesla was one in a million. For your ideas to work you would need to teach the entire 7 billion strong population of humans that we need to peacefully work together as a species. I'm sure you'll be met with great success. Until that day it is necessary to protect rights in a manner that lets people know they can do great things and not have to worry that someone will steal their years of hard work.

I don't agree with people filing this lawsuit. I don't think their idea is all that novel. I also think patents shouldn't last longer then it takes to recoup the investment.

TL;DR = People don't work that way, but yeah the patent system is currently ridiculous.

jeremyrussell: "People don't work that way" is question-begging (if you don't know what that logical fallacy is please see Wikipedia).

The point is that they ought to work that way. People can and should change. Answering "well they don't work that way" as an argument against this is fallacious. I mean, take your argument and apply it to (say) cannibals. A cannibalistic tribe would say "well, we eat people, we've always eaten people, therefore things will never change."

There can't be a logical, rational argument for patents. Which is unsurprising, since patents are clearly barbaric. So barbarians defend patents using (surprise) barbaric illogic.

I'm not sure anyone would ever claim that patents are morally justified. Their justification is cultural, in a sense. They are there that invention is worth it. Invention and innovation, in turn, bring about advances for the entire culture that has surrendered these specific rights, because it sees more value in progress than in the rights that are given up for it. I don't know whether a culture without patents would still advance and have as many inventors, but on the surface, this sounds like a reasonable trade-off.

I would restrict patent law to force a patent holder to license their patents to whomever for a reasonable price. We already have that for standards relevant patents, but i think it should apply to all patents.

"I'm not sure anyone would ever claim that patents are morally justified."

Objectivists do that:

Rand argued that limited intellectual property monopolies being granted to certain inventors and artists on a first-to-file basis as moral because she viewed all property as fundamentally intellectual.


There is a second justification for patents that often gets overlooked: in order to patent an innovation, you have to exactly describe that innovation, and this discription is made public, and after the patent expires everyone is free to use it.

Without this, there would be a strong incentive to keep innovations secret as much as possible, which may have them end up being lost.

I am a developer who has had a company maliciously file a patent claim against one of my apps, simply to try to take it out of competition from their own. They have never filed a case or intend to (since they don't even have one) but Apple has gone along with them and removed my app.

If you want to get rid of a competing app, all you have to do is make up lies about your competitor, threaten that you'll sue then and tell Apple. The iTunes store will take care of the rest.

That's the way Apple constructs it's walled garden approach. Apple is the sole judge of what will be on shelves and what won't.

I would discourage anyone to sell apps on Apple AppStore.

I do agree with you. But having read a lot on HN, I have the feeling, that a lot of people do stomp on apple, when apple removes an app.

But on the other hand, a lot of developers (oftentimes the same people that cry out when an app is removed) are happy to put apps on the shelves of this walled garden, trying to make a (fast) buck.

When I started reading these arguments and outcries against apple, I really felt with the developers. Nowadays it shifted. It seems to me, that there is (by some/a lot) developers a lot of bigotry involved. And on the user part as well.

Who didn't buy this or that app giving the evil lord of Apple the 30% cut? Who didn't praise this or that developer for their totally cool app, pushing it, promoting it, helping it make a bigger buck (and helping the evil overlord Apple this way)?

Me - I am guilty. I have an old iPhone and I did buy some apps. Yes, I thought the iPhone was cool/great/whatever. So yes I am as guilty as anybody owning an Apple product.

What I'm trying to say here is, that if anyone is really serious about showing Apple the middle-finger (excuse my language) he/she should stop buying products from the evil overlord or his minions (iBooks, Appstore, Macstore, et al.).

This and only this would show Apple, that maybe the removal-policy is wrong. Apple, as nearly any other big corp. will only feel the sting, if revenue drops and share prices drop after that.

Ah but this will never ever happen as we all know. Apple has a great influence over consumers. I really try hard to rationalize this but I can't.

Using non-standard ports, having walled-garden approach, over-pricing, being over-arrogant, denying users the simplest rights as to install what ever they like. These must be enough reason for sane-people to stay away from Apple, but on the contrary they encourage people to be more connected to.

I can't understand humans.

Its simple. Choices are complicated. People prefer easy decisions over hard ones.

I too have a handicapped child and I know how much work it can be to make even the littlest progress. I'm so glad to hear you've found such a great tool and love that you have also noticed such a big spike in ability ... my son's seem to come during and immediately after trips to Disney World.

And I can also sympathize with the idea that you might lose the sudden gains. Our son didn't walk until he was 3-4 years old, and then at about 9 years old his knees started degrading. Which leaves me with this ... sometimes all I can do for my son is to pray and I'll do that for you too. But I'm also going to send my elected officials your story. It needs to be heard.

This reminds me of India telling Big Pharma to bugger off, they would not let AIDS people die to protect their profits.

Patents are supposed to be beneficial to society because they give incentive to the inventor to invent. But inventors inventing stuff doesn't seem to be a problem in computer technologies. We don't need these useless patents.

If someone makes a false or unfounded claim, and it causes harm to another person (not least of which a disabled 4 year old) can't you sue the person making a false claim?

If this were shrink wrapped software, you wouldn't have this issue. This sort of thing only comes up because we have given a corporation the power to revoke access to software. In iOS there is no opportunity to install 'unsigned' software.

This situation also makes RMS's claims much more reasonable. Since this is not open software, it takes away the ability to ensure proper functioning of it upon some arbitrary future iOS update. If this were open software running on an open OS, any corporation, misguided or oppressive government, or judge would find it impossible to deprive people of the use of it, in perpetuity.

The two things that I'll be doing in response to this:

- selling my devices that use iOS. I've always felt uncomfortable giving up control, and I am starting to think it is morally iffy to contribute to a system that allows things like Maya being removed from the Appstore. Voluntarily giving rights, by using a system that requires giving a corporation the power to whitelist all software, seems short sighted, and this story brings it into sharp contrast. Luckily I won't have to return to the dark ages, I can just switch to Android (which is a GPL system that allows me to find alternate sources of software, and use unsigned software if I want).

- not buy the new retina macbook pro. I think I will become even more of a curmudgeon and just use Linux. I've been using Linux for around 5 years, but I almost always have a Macbook Pro as well, because Linux has rough edges. This sort of story reminds me that the more I am reliant on non-open software, the more I give the power to other people. If TextMate stops updating (oh, wait), or OSX goes the way of previous non-Jobs Apple products and becomes an untenable product, the more uncomfortable it will be for me. Since I make my living as a programmer, if I lose access to the tools I use, or they become crap, it is a serious concern to me. Perhaps Linux has some rough edges, but I can rely on it being there as long as it is useful for it to be there. I know Emacs will be available to me.

> If this were shrink wrapped software, you wouldn't have this issue.

No. Think about it this way: Removing the App from the App store is like a brick&mortar store removing the shrink wrapped software from it's shelves and not selling it anymore.

If you lose your CD you can't buy it again. But you can still use your copy. The same with an App: As long as you don't delete the App yourself it doesn't magically vanish. Furthermore you can back it up to your computer, you can copy the App to external disks or put a copy on Dropbox or whatever.

> The two things that I'll be doing in response to this: a) selling my devices that use iOS. b) not buy the new retina macbook pro.

Really? Since when did get hacker news so stupid? This news article, some third party company has a patent and brings action against another third party company, is so disconnected from a Macbook Pro or iOS that I wonder if I am insane or the rest of the world is.

> This sort of story reminds me that the more I am reliant on non-open software, the more I give the power to other people.

I am also puzzled what the constant pleas for open source in this and other comments want to accomplish. The software by "Speak for Yourself" which gave the disabled 4 year old girl its speech back? Guess what. It is closed-source and non-open software which was sold on the App Store for $299 (sic. Two hundred ninety-nine dollars). I find it hypocritical to only accuse Apple now, but not give them at least equal credit that they enabled with their evil closed garden the ecosystem, that SfY was able to sell their product for a high price in the first place (instead of being pirated out of business).

This isn't like a brick and morter store at all, because Apple can remotely uninstall software. Just because they haven't done it in this case doesn't mean it's reasonable for me to give them that option.

Google can de-list things in the Play store, but I can just use the Amazon store, or download apps directly. I don't have to jailbreak my phone every time there is an iOS release to enable this.

'Open Source' != Free as in beer. Speak for yourself could easily go to a model like the QT library, where they sell the software, but give the source to a safe third party, with an agreement to release it under an open source license if the software is abandoned, or the company goes out of business, the source is released under a free license.

The reason I am going to sell my Macbook is that unlike a free OS, OSX can turn to crap within a few years. They could lock it down like iOS, or lose key engineers and have it turn into another OS9, where it is years behind the competition and full of problems. I like to keep my options open.

1) Don't be fooled, Google would do the same in the Play store.

2) You can legally jailbreak your device and install any software you want.

And once again, the "crazy" views of the "fanatic" Richard Stallman ring truer than ever. Now that we rely more and more on computerized gadgets running programs for most of our activities, the sheer importance of Free Software running on Free Computers becomes more obvious, because it's becoming literally a matter of life and death.

I remember reading this in 1997:

Richard Stallman: The Right to Read


Then, most of what we already live now was only a science fiction. There were no chips that can prevent you from installing your own kernel. Well they are going to be sold soon, together with Windows 8:


"In December 2011, Microsoft released a document about hardware certification of OEM products, Windows Hardware Certification Requirements[57] which confirms that they intend to ban the possibility of installing alternative operating systems on ARM-based devices running Windows 8. The document insists that they will require x86 and x86-64 devices to have the Secure UEFI enabled. They allow for the possibility that a custom secure boot mode could be enabled providing to the user the ability to add signatures. However, they intend that going to custom secure boot mode or disabling secure boot mode on ARM devices will not be compatible with running Windows.[53 "Microsoft confirms UEFI fears, locks down ARM devices - SFLC Blog - Software Freedom Law Center". Softwarefreedom.org. 2012-01-12. Retrieved 2012-03-06."

There's already a hardware in production that will make impossible installing something else on the device, even if you have an access to the debugger -- on the technical level even a step beyond of the Stallman's dystopia of 1997.

"...we rely more and more on computerized gadgets running programs for most of our activities..."

I have concerns about that trend, but this particular case shows how an application running on a device can expand what can be done to integrate a disabled person into society.

Not just a shiny way of doing something we did before, but a real gain.

Stallman's was a name that I thought of as soon as I read the article.

Rand had a term, 'metaphysical justice' that covered this sort of thing. If you're a company that writes software for closed ecosystems like iOS, you can't complain if the owner of the ecosystem cuts you off.

Ditto if you buy an iOS device; the _feeling_ of security and the easy discoverability that come with a closed ecosystem come at a price, and that is that a third party (in this case Apple) really controls your device, not you.

It's just really sad that Maya's parents discovered the above in such a harsh fashion :-(


Nothing instills rage in me more than companies, knowing how essential what they sell is, slagging each other for petty, pointless money.

I hate to be dramatic, but these are disabled adults and children for christ's sake, people who need things like SfY. I just do not understand how someone at the litigating company thought "hey, let's go sue a company over some very complex and possibly unfounded patent allegations! Screw the people that rely on the products we're suing about, they won't mind". How dare they take away a person's ability to communicate? Tell me, is there any reasonable situation where it's acceptable to deny a child's ability to speak?

The humanity of it all :/


There's definitely a human component that is missing from this process.

> petty, pointless money

Oh, you mean that same money that is literally the only reason that they provide these "essential" products?

Oh, you mean that same money that is literally the only reason that they provide these "essential" products?

That simply isn't true.

I know a lot of people who work on apps similar to this, or in related fields, and money is far from the only reason they do it. Infact, I know people who literally give away their work to make sure people can use it.

Yes, some people do. Not, however, Prentke Romich Company. (Which is perfectly fine of course.)


Speak for Yourself don't seem to be doing it only for the money (given their prices anyway).

The one thing that stuck out from this article for me was that Apple removed the application because the dispute had not been resolved after X time.

WTF?! That is all kinds of arse-backwards. If the patent dispute had not yet been resolved then you should not have removed the application, simple as that. The courts do not march to Apple's timetables.

Everytime I've heard a patent story in the last several years I've been thoroughly disgusted, but never to the extent I am after reading this story.

Agreed. Oracle and Google fighting it out doesn't really tug at your heartstrings -- but this is just sad. It puts a human face on the effects of patent hoarding / trolling.

Temporary solution would be to ask developers to port it to android or jail-break app and release from the country that does not honor these patents.

Since the app is a basic necessity for its user, customers wont mind going extra mile and root their device and use the app.

It's so ironic to read this story after having seen the keynote video proclaiming how iOS has changed so many lives in such profound ways, and having Tim Cook proclaim how "It’s a great reminder of what it’s all about, and why all of us do what we do". [1]

I get the fact that the way apple handled this is fairly standard, but it is still disheartening.

[1] http://seekingalpha.com/article/654641-apple-s-ceo-presents-...

Things like this make me wonder if we're missing something by decrying the patent trolls.

When the patent holder is a non-practicing entity, there is no incentive for the holder to interfere with the creation of competing products (abusive attempts to extract a settlement notwithstanding). Anything covered by the patent is a potential source of licensing fees, simple as that.

I'm going to start thinking out loud here: Imagine patent holders are disallowed from directly exercising the techniques covered by their patents. Corporations that patent technology in their field essentially have to sell their patents to NPEs and license them back. The researching corporation gets an up-front return on their R&D investment (and a potential head start in implementing the new patents before the rest of the public actually sees them) and the public suffers none of the side effects of a government-granted monopoly.

The biggest wrinkle in a system like this would be the whole mess of submarine patents. If NPEs could be incentivised to make their patents broadly known, and approach licensees before they implement those patents, they could actually become a real value-ad to the system rather than a parasite: Imagine a one-stop shop where you could license a patent, get a reference implementation, and access experts who could help you apply that patent to your product. It could be similar to companies like ARM that license reference chip designs to manufacturers.

Again, I'm just thinking out loud here, so feel free to let me know if I'm off-base here.

It's telling that the author hasn't received an offer for a free copy of PRC's product.

Think about it: the author writes touching human interest story that pulls at readers' heartstrings by genuinely presenting the dilemma he is faced with. The story resonates with the combined holy trinity of geek social news: "Apple is a soulless and evil," "The patent system is a parasite on the world," and "Indie game/software developers are sacrosanct." Outrage ensues.

What could make this all go away for PRC? Apologizing and offering the author a free copy of their product before he decides to launch a crusade and a PR nightmare. Instead, no such offer came through.

The question I want answered is, Why? Are these companies so clueless that they don't see the PR catastrophe brewing? Do they know and don't care?

I propose a teaching about the nature of social news in the form of an admittedly unlikely third explanation: The company performed a cost-benefit analysis and realized that the intersection of this blog's audience and the company's customer base is so small they can get away with ignoring them.

Your outrage is impotent. You can rage about this on the internet all you want, but it's not going to cause an inch of motion in any direction. If you want to do something other than express frustration, send letters to newspapers, don't post comments. These companies are going to have to lead marketing campaigns. Get the jump on them and make the first impression on their potential customers.

That is how you get things done.

PRC's product isn't as good for this family as the software they currently use.

Here's a video of the Maya in question using the device.


What illness/disability does she have? She clearly understands her mother and navigates a complex UI .

This shows, yet again, is that software patents do not constitute a functioning property system. What are the affordances of a property system? A big one is that it provides reasonable certainty that you will have the use of something you think you own. Software patents actually work against this.

Lee and Mulligan (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2016968) make a good case that software firms "are unable to discover the patents their activities might infringe", because software patents are not "indexable" (unlike chemical patents, which are indexable by molecular formula) . Any companies know what their patent assets are, but not their liabilities, as testified by the fact that tech companies put pro-forma statements to this effect (with suitable weasel wording) in their SEC filings. Now we are seeing that due to the app store model, this risk is propagated to ordinary customers.

Looking at this and the video of her using it, I can't help wondering if Maya and her parents wouldn't be better served learning ASL.

ASL is much richer, faster to actually use and doesn't depend on an external app...

Regardless of this, I'm getting increasingly uncomfortable with Apple's practices when it comes to their App store. Legally, as far as I know, they only need to act on a court order to remove the app and don't need preemptive. So, I don't understand the reasoning behind removing it now...

While learning ASL is a good way to communicate with her parents, sooner rather than later she will need to & want to communicate with the wider world, and most people can't sign. So she will likely need something like this going forwards, and as you note the bigger issue here (beyond her and her family) is the patent & Apple situation.

the time to get uncomfortable with apple's practices was when they decided that if i developed an app, and you bought an ipad, the only way for me to get my app onto your ipad was through an app store that they controlled, and then only if they gave us permission. anything after that is just scum floating on the underlying pool of sewage.

The following is from PRC's Facebook page [1].

Most of it is in defense of their lawsuit, while the last paragraph is in defense of their request to remove the app from the Apple store.

Last week Prentke Romich Company (PRC) learned that Apple removed a language assistance app from its iTunes® store pending the outcome of a patent infringement lawsuit filed against the company that developed the iPad® app.

PRC and the licensor of the Unity™ system that powers our language devices jointly filed the lawsuit after our patent attorney found numerous instances of infringement on Unity patents in the “Speak for Yourself” app. Apple has a process that allows third parties to provide notice of infringement concerns as part of its terms and conditions. Accordingly, we reached out to Apple on two occasions. We provided Apple with a copy of the lawsuit, expressing our concerns about the “Speak for Yourself” app. We then responded to a later request from Apple asking for an update on the lawsuit. Last week, Apple elected to remove the app.

The Unity system is the result of the long commitment and hard work of Bruce Baker and his company, Semantic Compaction Systems (SCS). His life’s work, which he has refined over decades, created life-changing technology that has given a voice to thousands of individuals with profound disabilities. 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.

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 on Unity patents.

There’s a reason patents are in place, to protect decades of hard work and research that go into our devices. To take someone’s life work and market it as your own is simply wrong. The founders of the company marketing this app are speech-language pathologists who were trained by PRC, and who used their knowledge of the Unity system to develop a Unity-like app of their own and market it in the Apple iTunes store.

We do recognize that new consumer technology, such as tablet-based apps, are playing a useful role in assistive technology, although it is unlikely they will be the best option for all clients. We intend to participate in this space but will only do so in a way that supports the best possible language outcomes for those clients with severe communications disorders.

[1] http://www.facebook.com/PrentkeRomichCompany

>>> There’s a reason patents are in place, to protect decades of hard work and research that go into our devices. To take someone’s life work and market it as your own is simply wrong.

This appears to be the crux of it: is the technology that SfY 'copied' actually the direct results of decades of effort, or could it have been created by a few designers and developers looking at the problem of assisting disabled children over a few months?

If the approach that is used is trivial to think of and/or implement, then maybe it's not really "marketing someone else's life's work", but just re-implementing a simple-enough idea. If patents are granted for ideas as simple as that, then clearly patents are broken.

>>> We intend to participate in this space (new consumer technology / tablet apps) but will only do so in a way that supports the best possible language outcomes for those clients with severe communications disorders.

I hope that includes pricing a product well within range of most potential customers, and not at $2,500+ prices.

If the entire approach of an app is easily copied, it hardly has the right to expect to not be copied (except when patent protected). It's funny, we get much more complicated algorithms and systems implemented for free in free/open software, while these families have to pay the economic rent imposed by a patent-holder for a relatively simple design that IMO could be easily re-invented by a few product designers focusing on the problem.

The problem is that software is such an odd field that one man's "life's work" can easily be another's "weekend project".

Whenever I start feeling a bit full of myself after battling a week or so on some particularly difficult problem, I try to remember that there are people out there who could kick my ass in the time it takes to air an episode of The Simpsons.

In the end, this is why the whole notion of "software" patents is probably doomed from the start.

the technology that SfY 'copied' actually the direct results of decades of effort, or could it have been created by a few designers and developers looking at the problem of assisting disabled children over a few months?

You are making the classical developer mistake of thinking that programming is the hard part. Generally programming is the easy part. Domain knowledge is the hard part.

Let me give you an example, anyone could write an app to calculate e=mc^2. It took Einstein years to come up with that formula in the first place. Do you think because you could write that app in 5 minutes, you're as smart as Einstein?

And you make the classic mistake of faulty analogizing.

I totally acknowledge that it takes domain knowledge to come up with a good solution. However, I specifically ask this question because it looks likely to me that that doesn't apply in this particular case. An app that uses a hierarchical display of symbols to allow input of language seems to me like a natural, intuitive approach to allowing a user to generate speech. I believe if a few people were to iterate on an app for this purpose, they'd probably have come across this approach pretty quickly. In other words, I'm saying this is more an archetypal case of a broken software patent, rather than of a specialized domain invention that just happens to use computer hardware.

I could not have come up with the equation e = mc^2, but I believe I could have come up with the basic idea of a hierarchical icon display used to input language without years/decades of research. It would have been even easier for a speech pathologist to achieve that in this era of software and programmer abundance, even if PRC had never developed their system and gotten their patents.

(Of course, if I've misunderstood the scope of the patents involved, I apologize.)

The founders of the company marketing this app are speech-language pathologists who were trained by PRC, and who used their knowledge of the Unity system to develop a Unity-like app of their own and market it in the Apple iTunes store.

This is irrelevant to this discussion as long as none of the knowledge used was a trade secret. An employee is free to use expertise developed while at a previous employer.

If anyone feels like making a copycat app over the weekend.


I contacted the parents via the email on their blog and offered to do just this.

Keep us updated. I wonder if the concept could be tweaked enough to be sufficiently different from the patented ideas, but as/even more effective?

Let me know if you need any help. I don't have time to clone the entire app, but could certainly contribute a screen, control, planning, etc

Hey HN: bet you never expected "think of the children" to support an argument you agree with. :)

Another solution if they're afraid they might lose the ability to use the app if Apple pulls removes the app remotely (which it has NEVER done):

Pay $190 to SfY (via credit card), ask them to give you a provisioning profile for beta testing, install it on your iPad, download updates with TestFlight (https://testflightapp.com) or manually. Problem (partially solved! It sucks, but at least they don't have to fear they might never be able to use this app again, or if the device breaks they life would be ruined.

Or better yet: Sign up for Apple Developer Program (100% per year), get a private key for signing apps, get the BINARY from SfY, sign it with your key (using iReSign or InstaSign) and profit. Of course if they go out of business (because of lawsuit), it wouldn't work. But then it's not an Apple problem anymore and SfY couldn't create a similar app for Android too, and they're really screwed this time.

If the goal is to get a working app in the hands of people that need it. Have an android app created that can be easily sideloaded (this could be done on iOS will more burden). You have a portable computer, treat it like one. There are no rules when your children's well being is at stake.


The ipad should be a) backed up, b) put in airplane mode.


"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."

"There’s a reason patents are in place, to protect decades of hard work and research that go into our devices. To take someone’s life work and market it as your own is simply wrong. The founders of the company marketing this app are speech-language pathologists who were trained by PRC, and who used their knowledge of the Unity system to develop a Unity-like app of their own and market it in the Apple iTunes store."

There's obviously some undercurrent here, since apparently the folks behind the application are former employees of these companies. Of course, none of that changes the fact that what these companies are doing is unconscionable, since it benefits only themselves and not the people they are purportedly setting out to assist with these devices. Amazing, considering those same people are the ones putting bread on the company's table.

I can't see this in the article (or the original) but I wonder why they haven't developed sign language as a tool? It seems to me as though if someone can learn to use an app to produce speech they could learn at least some modified form of sign language.

It doesn't appear that Maya has the fine motor control for the level of complexity of sign language that she would now need. Using SfY she is constructing phrases of increasing complexity, I get the impression that sign language is a useful tool to her, but has reached a limit (for now)

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