Samsung patent lawsuit would have left blind iPhone users in the dark

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Talk about a lack of vision!

A Samsung patent lawsuit that was overturned today in a German court sought to prevent Apple from making it easy for blind iPhone users to access the VoiceOver feature -- a text-to-speech app so essential that the National Federation for the Blind gave it an award.

Tech watchers said stretching the patent battle to such a feature was simply bad business.

“It’s the PR equivalent of punching yourself in the face,” wrote AllThingsDigital’s John Paczkowski.


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The battle revolved around a German patent Samsung holds on pressing a button to activate a text-to-speech feature. To make its phones accessible to blind users out of the box, a triple tap on the phone's only front button launches the VoiceOver feature.

Had the injunction been granted, Apple would have had to come up with some other way to easily activate VoiceOver on iPhones in Germany, said Chris Danielson of the National Federation for the Blind.

“That would have been a real hardship for blind iPhone users,” he told “If you can’t see the touch screen, you can’t go into settings and all the other normal things to activate VoiceOver. That’s why Apple included this triple button press; any blind person could pick up an iPhone and interact with it.”

Danielson, who is himself blind, is one of many iPhone users who has come to rely on the feature. His organization awarded Apple the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for VoiceOver, and for the company's overall efforts to make technology accessible to the disabled. Those efforts have paid off, he said.

“Blind people who have them love them,” he said. “There’s quite a lot of enthusiasm for the iPhone among blind people.”

Reached for comment by AllThingsDigital, Samsung defend its right to defend its patents. “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 said. “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.”

Intellectual property activist turned analyst Florian Mueller of the popular Foss Patents website agreed that Samsung’s efforts to protect its patents may have crossed a line.

“I can't say anything positive about its offensive assertions from a business ethics point of view,” he wrote. “From a certain angle the voiceover patent suit is the worst [such patent lawsuit] because it's an attempt -- thwarted for the time being, but not dismissed forever -- to hold vision-impaired German Apple customers hostage.”

“I don't think Samsung is evil. I really don't. But it should give more thought to the wider implications of its retaliatory actions against Apple,” he said.