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Assistive Technology Meets International Patent Law

Contributed by Joel Zimba, Technology Outreach Specialist, MDTAP

If you’re lucky, the ongoing patent war between Apple and Samsung has not intruded upon your life in the last 3 years or so.  The legal jockeying for intellectual property is yet another way in which corporate giants attempt to gain an edge on their competition.  This is all well and good until consumers feel the fallout from these battles.

One recent lawsuit in Germany claims that Apple violated Samsung’s patent concerning speaking the contents of the screen aloud.  This suit has been temporarily stayed pending the resolution of other lawsuits.  If it has legs, this suit could cause problems for VoiceOver users.

At the outset, it seems that “triple-clicking” the “Home” button– that is, pressing the “home” button 3 times quickly in order to activate VoiceOver violates a specific Samsung patent. This is the downside of incorporating assistive technologies into commercial products natively.  All aspects of mobile technology can be brought into the court room.

For now, this case is on hold.  Also, the media backlash and the attention from many disability groups will probably give the judges, if not Samsung themselves, pause.

If VoiceOver became too difficult either financially or politically for Apple to maintain, disabled users would be greatly effected.  While this is a small group, let’s hope the public relations nightmare which would result will keep future accessibility feature patents off the table.

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