Sunday, September 2, 2012

PRC: A Voice for Those With no Voice, or a Bully?

This is response to "an ongoing saga involving PRC/SCS and their claims of patent infringement by Speak For Yourself", an app that has been pulled at their request from both iTunes and Android's largest store, Google Play.

To understand the background on this, visit here:

Some background on PRC (Prentke-Romich Company)

This is not a mom and pop company, this is a multi-million dollar company.  One of  their most popular, or perhaps the most popular device, costs nearly $8,000.  Considering they just announced several months ago reaching their 10,000th sale of just this device alone, aside from their many others, this is clearly a very profitable business. 

This is not to say that because this is a large, profitable company they should not pursue legal action against other individual businesses they feel are infringing on their supposed patents.  That is for the court to decide-The real issue is that this very profitable company, which clearly had other means to address this situation, chose to take the low road by demanding Apple (and now Google Play) remove the Speak For Yourself app.   For a company whose slogan is "We believe everyone deserves a voice" TM, it is more than slightly ironic that this doesn't seem to apply after all.  When every voice matters, you don't pull that voice from the App Store without absolute concrete evidence that something illegal has been done. Just saying it's so does not make it so.

To further complicate matters, this decision was made at a time when PRC didn't even have an AAC app available- in fact parents and educators had been asking for this for years to no avail; PRC even said on its Facebook page I was reading not too long ago- a couple of months, perhaps- that they did not have any solid plans to develop an app in the near future.   It appears with the backlash, or perhaps in a misguided attempt to strengthen their court case, PRC has now hastily released one that just appeared in the app store on Aug.28th.  Apparently they could develop one after all, albeit only in the U.S. App Store- this is important to note- Speak For Yourself has been removed from international app stores, such as Australia's, but PRC chose to release its app only in the US market.  It's a bit telling, in my opinion.  This move might help explain why PRC has angered so many- isn't it a bit silly to refuse to enter a market, someone else designs something "similar" yet markedly different to meet a need, then PRC cries "Unfair", as someone just beat them to the punch?  The release is certainly great news for the new users (at least in the United States) that will find their voice through this app.  However, the company behind it does leave a bad taste behind. 

So what, exactly is the lawsuit about?
The lawsuit seems to center around the main assertion that they are too similar, and those similarities infringe on patents that PRC and SCS (Semantic Compaction Systems) owns. If you poke around on the Uncommon Sense blog, there should be some links to the actual documents claiming infringement, as well as a petition to return Speak For Yourself to the Apple Store.

Quite similar or the same?
In an anonymous comment in the blog post linked to above, a defender of/(spokesperson for?) PRC claims that unlike other AAC apps, SFY (Speak For Yourself) is "quite similar" to the technology patented by PRC.  I would like to point out that "similar" and "the same" mean two different things, particularly in the AAC world. What PRC is alleging as copying most see as innovation.  The fact is, similar means very little in the AAC world. Let's take two top-selling AAC apps: Proloquo2Go and TouchChat.  They are similar, and yet a user may be lost using one and be a pro at the other.  Why is that?  The reality is we are not talking about a  watch, a pair of sneakers or a pair of sunglasses here, we are talking about a voice!  It is the small subtleties in layout, design, vocabulary, functions that work for a specific user versus another-that set any AAC app apart from its competitors. I personally have trialed about 50 different communication apps and have yet to see one that is completely interchangeable with any other, no matter how similar.   I have seen a taste of PRC's new app, and I would love to get my hands on it to confirm what I can see through videos and screenshots- it's not the same! And if SFY isn't identical to what PRC is offering, then that means removing SFY is preventing someone from finding their voice.   If PRC truly prides itself on giving voices to others, why do they seem so intent on taking them away?

 Study PRC's app and Speak For Yourself, then decide for yourself- Is there room in the App Store for both?

Speak For Yourself has returned to iTunes!

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