John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Samsung’s Ill-Conceived Apple VoiceOver Suit Stayed in Germany

VoiceoverSamsung has suffered another setback in its smartphone patent brawl with Apple, this one on the German front, and over a particularly contentious feature: Mobile device accessibility.

A Mannheim Regional Court on Friday ordered a stay of a Samsung suit against Apple that alleges the iPhone maker’s VoiceOver screen-access technology violated its patent on display into speech data.

The mechanics of this particular spat and the court’s ruling on it are a bit too byzantine to dive into here, but it’s worth a look in broad strokes simply as an example of just how low players are willing to stoop in IP battles like the one between Apple and Samsung. So, in short: Samsung holds a patent on a feature that allows devices to read text aloud to their users with the press of a button. The company asserted that patent against Apple’s accessibility features, specifically VoiceOver which is specifically designed for anyone with impaired vision. Caught in the middle: The blind, low-vision users, folks with dyslexia and anyone else who might benefit from having what appears on their computer screen described to them out loud.

Yes, this move by Samsung against Apple was a tactical one in a nasty battle in which billions of dollars are at stake. Yes, it’s just business. But it’s ill-conceived. Even leaving aside the ethics of asserting a patent against a feature designed to help the blind, this is unwise. It’s the PR equivalent of punching yourself in the face. Samsung has now identified itself as a company willing to accept the loss of accessibility for the vision-impaired as collateral damage in its battle with Apple. It has made a big public move to make it more difficult for the blind to use computers. That’s just foolish — more so, now that the judge presiding over the case has stayed the suit. Again, this is just business and battle, but there’s a PR war being fought here, as well. And Samsung is not doing itself any favors with poorly thought-out assaults like this one.

Reached for comment, Samsung offered a boilerplate statement on the larger IP battle. “For decades, we have heavily invested in pioneering the development of technological innovations in the mobile industry, which have been constantly reflected in our products,” a company spokesman told AllThingsD. “We continue to believe that Apple has infringed our patented mobile technologies, and we will continue to take the measures necessary to protect our intellectual property rights.”


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