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Software Patents Not So Abstract When the Lawsuits Hit Home 180

Posted by timothy
from the complaints-department dept.
no_such_user writes "It's easy to ignore the controversy surrounding software patents, especially if you don't have the passion for technology which Slashdot readers do. But as Dana Nieder discovered, it's not all about major corporations and obscure patent trolls. Her daughter uses a comparatively inexpensive assistive communication app on their iPad, which is being threatened by the makers of a multi-thousand-dollar hardware device."
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Software Patents Not So Abstract When the Lawsuits Hit Home

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  • Bit more info (Score:5, Informative)

    by maxdread (1769548) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @02:39PM (#39468209)

    A link to the actual complaint for anyone to read over (legal speak makes my head hurt so don't count on me to read it).

    http://news.priorsmart.com/semantic-compaction-systems-v-speak-for-yourself-l5vv/ [priorsmart.com]

  • Patents in question (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @02:44PM (#39468249)

    The patents in question, from USPTO website.

    #5748177 Dynamic keyboard and method for dynamically redefining keys on a keyboard

    A dynamic keyboard includes a plurality of keys, each with an associated symbol, which are dynamically redefinable to provide access to higher level keyboards. Based on sequenced symbols of keys sequentially activated, certain dynamic categories and subcategories can be accessed and keys corresponding thereto dynamically redefined. Dynamically redefined keys can include embellished symbols and/or newly displayed symbols. These dyanmically redefined keys can then provide the user with the ability to easily access both core and fringe vocabulary words in a speech synthesis system.

    #5920303 Dynamic keyboard and method for dynamically redefining keys on a keyboard

    pe1 A dynamic keyboard includes a plurality of keys, each with an associated symbol, which are dynamically redefinable to provide access to higher level keyboards. Based on sequenced symbols of keys sequentially activated, certain dynamic categories and subcategories can be accessed and keys corresponding thereto dynamically redefined. Dynamically redefined keys can include embellished symbols and/or newly displayed symbols. These dynamically redefined keys can then provide the user with the ability to easily access both core and fringe vocabulary words in a speech synthesis system.

    ---
    Seems a bit broad IMO, allowing such dynamic functionality across key redefining, and then pasting on 'as it applies' to "a speech synthesis system".

    For what it's worth, seeing as a few hundred dollar iPad app is allowing a little girl to speak vs. a $9000 piece of hardware from the suing company, I hope this goes viral to the point that the Semantic Corporation (plaintiff) is forced to drop the lawsuit just to save PR face.

  • Re:Common sense? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @02:57PM (#39468345)

    If patents were actually reviewed by people who have at least a minuscle idea about just WHAT gets patented there, that's what might happen. Since patent clerks are on one hand overworked due to the flood of trivial, ludicrous patents being pushed at them, patent applications being deliberately vague and convoluted and the average clerk not being an expert in the field at hand, things like this can happen.

    Like, say, patenting the wheel [newscientist.com]. Sure, that patent was retracted nearly instantly, but it gives you an idea just what kind of idiocy goes on in the patent offices of this world. And as long as nobody challenges a patent (and what average person or small company has the means to?), a patent stands.

  • Re:open source? (Score:4, Informative)

    by ODBOL (197239) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:01PM (#39468365) Homepage

    If Speak for Yourself posts the source code under an open license, and make no money from it, then they are safe, right? And since when does a hardware patent apply to software? And doesn't prior tech void the patent?

    Alas, they are not safe. Patent infringement applies to all use, whether profitable or no. Current patent policy applies to software, and even business process, as well as hardware. Whether there is legal infringement depends on the details of the claims, which are very hard to evaluate. If there is prior art, that may invalidate the patent. But the relevance of prior art to the specific claims is a fuzzy issue. Also, once a patent has been registered, the burden of proof is on the alleged infringer regarding prior art. OK, IANAL, and I'm writing from memory, so this should all be checked, but I'm pretty sure I've memorized these points correctly.

  • Re:Patent links (Score:5, Informative)

    by timholman (71886) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:02PM (#39468371)

    anybody that speaks "patent" know if they have a decent patent or can "we" rip these patents apart like Mouse Dresden does to Vampires??

    (just for "fun" lets see if we can come up with prior art and such)

    You're wasting your time. Prior art can be found for the great majority of patents. (I do this part-time as a consultant.)

    But prior art is irrelevant unless you can afford a couple of good attorneys who bill at $500 / hour, and are willing to devote months if not years of your life to a legal battle. Is it worth $100,000, or even $1,000,000, to invalidate the plaintiff's patent? You can win the battle but lose the war when your small business goes bankrupt from the legal costs.

  • Re:Bit more info (Score:5, Informative)

    by Svartalf (2997) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:03PM (#39468375) Homepage

    They're suing over a dynamic interface keyboard that's on-screen or otherwise.

    That's what they're suing them over.

    They have prior art that they've not contemplated here. This [assistiveware.com] program existed in it's earliest form in 1996. Which was a dynamic interface keyboard for assistive purposes.

    I tire of this bullshit. What was done to "reform" patents did nothing of the sort.

  • Re:Seriously? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:03PM (#39468381)

    Hunt down an online programmer in another country.

    Pay them a few hundred.

    They will knock up an app that's better, works on everything, and can be extended and customised later and you'll have the source too.

    Except they're using an iPad, so that's not an option. And because it's Apple that will ultimately remotely disable the app that their child uses to speak, I think they should also note the dangers of using Apple products.

    If they used an Android tablet, they could just side-load the forbidden app and their daughter would never have to worry about losing it. Instead they went with shiny, and now they may have to pay the price.

    Hopefully they'll think more carefully about using a product that forces them into a closed garden in the future.

  • by Svartalf (2997) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:10PM (#39468415) Homepage

    Actually...it'd be more than PR they'd save. Apple patented the base concept in 1992 [google.com]

  • Re:Bit more info (Score:5, Informative)

    by kanweg (771128) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:14PM (#39468445)

    That is not Novelty destroying, I think. The first claim says that they keys contain polysemous symbols. Not being a native speaker, I had to look that word up. This is what Wikipedia says:

    A polyseme is a word or phrase with different, but related senses. Since the test for polysemy is the vague concept of relatedness, judgments of polysemy can be difficult to make. Because applying pre-existing words to new situations is a natural process of language change, looking at words' etymology is helpful in determining polysemy but not the only solution; as words become lost in etymology, what once was a useful distinction of meaning may no longer be so. Some apparently unrelated words share a common historical origin, however, so etymology is not an infallible test for polysemy, and dictionary writers also often defer to speakers' intuitions to judge polysemy in cases where it contradicts etymology. English has many words which are polysemous. For example the verb "to get" can mean "procure" (I'll get the drinks), "become" (she got scared), "have" (I've got three dollars), "understand" (I get it) etc.

    The program you linked to only shows letters on the keys.

    Bert

  • Re:Bit more info (Score:5, Informative)

    by Svartalf (2997) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:19PM (#39468471) Homepage

    And...we won't get into the fact that Apple patented the base concept in 1992 [google.com]

  • by lennier1 (264730) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:21PM (#39468483)

    Get rid of a patent threat by involving an even worse one?

  • Re:Bit more info (Score:4, Informative)

    by Svartalf (2997) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @03:30PM (#39468533) Homepage

    Ah, but the distinction is insufficient for a utility patent on the implementation. Apple's actions anticipate the other that you mention. It IS Novelty Destroying.

  • Re:Patent links (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grond (15515) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @05:15PM (#39469371) Homepage

    But prior art is irrelevant unless you can afford a couple of good attorneys who bill at $500 / hour, and are willing to devote months if not years of your life to a legal battle.

    Patent attorneys, even good ones, do not universally bill $500/hour. There are perfectly competent patent attorneys who bill half or even a quarter of that. But moreover, litigation is not the only route to invalidating a patent. If appropriate prior art is found (e.g. patents and printed publications), reexamination at the Patent Office costs far less than litigation, often results in invalidation or substantial narrowing of the patent, and any co-pending litigation is typically stayed during reexamination.

    Is it worth $100,000, or even $1,000,000, to invalidate the plaintiff's patent? You can win the battle but lose the war when your small business goes bankrupt from the legal costs.

    That's one reason I favor greater use of fee-shifting in patent cases (i.e. patentee pays the other side's attorney's fees if the patent is invalidated). But who's to say that the patentee would get an injunction in this case? Since they don't make an iPad app it's quite possible that the court would only award a reasonable royalty or perhaps lost profits. That means the app will have to be more expensive but it doesn't mean it would be removed from the market. Similarly, the defendant many be able to settle for a reasonable royalty without incurring significant litigation costs. The author of the article assumes that the result will be the end of the app, but this is not necessarily true.

  • Re:But, but ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @07:14PM (#39470229)

    That's not how patents work.

    Suppose I (A) have a way of accomplishing a technological miracle. And then I get a patent on it.

    Somebody else (B) comes along and patents the improvement of doing that miracle on the internet.

    We guess what - neither A nor B can actually practice the miracle itself on the internet. B can't because A has the patent on the miracle. B has the improvement patent which describes doing the miracle on the internet so A can't do it on the internet.

    Patents DON'T give you the right to practice your invention, only the right to prevent someone else from doing it.

  • Re:Patent links (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2012 @07:27PM (#39470321)

    I don't know about you, but I can't afford even half that. If someone wants to take down one of my hobby projects, and I can't attract the attention of the likes of the EFF, then I'm rolling over. It doesn't matter how invalid the patent is, I can't fight it.

  • Prior art (Score:5, Informative)

    by fyngyrz (762201) on Monday March 26, 2012 @06:10AM (#39472747) Homepage Journal

    I wrote, and my company shipped, a free icon/text configurable speech generation system for the Amiga that does essentially what the iPad app in question here does at least two years before the date of the patent in question (the complaint dates the patents 1995 and 1997 -- Talkboard hails from 1993 and before, though I can only document it to 1993 -- that's the copyright date in the archive.) The application is called "Talkboard" and is still available from our company's historical archive [datapipe-b...ystems.com].

    Talkboard presented a layered interface pretty much just like the one in the iPad app, It used a synthesized voice and provided for unusual phonetic construction so as to obtain the best clarity (the Amiga's text-to-speech could be.... quirky.) You could load and save phrase banks, and one phrase bank could partially replace another or completely replace another. Single words or short phrases or entire complex sentences could be stored for 1-click or multiple click retrieval. The phrase could be represented by any shorthand that was convenient. It came with presets, but was really intended to be customized by the end user - what a kid has to say and an adult has to say tend to not be the same things in most cases. It could also be driven from ARexx, a system-wide scripting facility, and could dynamically change definitions based upon whatever criteria you needed it to.

    As far as I can tell, there's nothing unique, new or even interesting in the two patent claims.

    Hopefully that's of use to the EFF or the defending party.

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