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Speak For Yourself, iPad App Giving Voiceless A Voice, Exits App Store

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Maya sits by her iPad with the app Speak for Yourself launched. It was pulled from the Apple Store last week.
Maya sits by her iPad with the app Speak for Yourself launched. It was pulled from the Apple Store last week.

A little girl has become the face of an embattled iPad app giving those with speech problems the ability to speak.

Maya Nieder, a 4-year-old in New York who has difficulty speaking, utilizes the app Speak for Yourself, to communicate with the world at large. In April, she was profiled by TIME's Keith Wagstaff.

But this app, designed by certified speech-language pathologists, is in the midst of a legal battle and has been discontinued, for now. Apple removed the app from its App Store last week.

"Over 1,000 pageloads today and it's only 10:45. The word is spreading," Maya's mother Dana Nieder tweeted this morning, as she wages her own war on the companies fighting the app with a personal campaign online.

Both sides have also released statements on Facebook (scroll down for those). Dana Nieder says she is fond of the role social media can play as this story develops.

"If something like this happened pre-Facebook or pre-Twitter, we would just be really upset by ourselves. There would be nothing that we could do," she told The Huffington Post. "At least I feel I can do something [by posting to social media and a blog]. I can help the story spread and hopefully make a difference."

Nieder says she's also observed an outpouring of support and has been amazed how fast the story has circulated the Web. She spoke out on her personal blog after Apple removed the app:

It disappeared. It no longer exists.

Gone.

According to this court document, here’s how it happened: PRC/SCS contacted Apple and requested that Speak for Yourself be removed from the iTunes store, claiming that it infringes on their patents. In turn, Apple contacted SfY and requested their response to these claims. The lawyer for SfY responded, explaining to Apple exactly why the infringement claims are unfounded, referring Apple to the current open court case, and pointing out that PRC/SCS had not asked the court for an injunction ordering the app to be removed from the store. For months, nothing happened . . . and then on June 4th Apple notified SfY that the app had been removed, due to the fact that the dispute with PRC/SCS had not been resolved.

The PRC/SCS that she's referring to is Prentke Romich Company and Semantic Compaction Systems, which brought the app down with a claim that over 100 software patents were infringed on, per TIME. The case is still in court, but Apple apparently decided to remove the app now.

Maya still has the app, but her mother notes she won't be able to get updates and it could fail as updates are made to the iPad iOS. For those who don't already have it, they won't be able to get it.

"What if it can be remotely deleted?" her mother also worries.

PCWorld foreshadowed what's happening here with its piece, "How Tech Patent Lawsuits Hurt Real People."

Maya's mother told PCWorld that this is about big companies (PRC and SCS) against Speak for Yourself. If the little guys lose, those like Maya may be forced to get communication devices that can range up to $9,000 -- Speak for Yourself retails for $299.99 -- "too big (both literally and figuratively)," Dana Nieder said.

Speak for Yourself released the following statement in response to Apple's move with a Facebook post Monday evening:

We were saddened and disappointed that PRC and Semantic Compaction filed a lawsuit against us, two speech-language pathologists who have emphatically supported their mission that "everyone deserves a voice."

We came to terms with their decision and actions over these past few months. We have taken all of the necessary and legal steps to defend the lawsuit and protect Speak for Yourself, the app that we created, and that hundreds of people who are unable to talk are using to communicate.

Unfortunately last week, Apple removed our app from the App Store under pressure from Semantic and Prentke Romich. Now our sadness and disappointment have turned to indignation. Speak for Yourself will continue to fight this baseless lawsuit and the obvious, and blatant interference with your fundamental right to a VOICE which is motivated solely by their desire to drive SfY out of existence. That will not happen.

PRC had its own statement in response, posted to Facebook this afternoon:

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.

Maya's mother had said previously that the legal fight was "literally" putting "my daughter’s voice on the line."

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

See how the app works with this video from Speak for Yourself:

Also on The Huffington Post

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