the laughing cloud

Patents don’t silence little girls… but infringment makes them cry.

Techdirt has an article about a little girl potentially losing her ability to improve her speech due to a patent lawsuit. Read it here.

Poor little girl, evil patent-enforcing company… the usual nonsense… and I can’t take it any more.  Inventing stuff intentionally, as opposed to sitting in a room with lawyers trying to figure out if there’s a patent in there they can file, is hard.  It’s also really expensive.  And the odds against a lone inventor are terrible… on the order of well over 90% of the time you’ll never get your money back.


Yes, there are junk patents out there that probably shouldn’t have been issued.  This really doesn’t look like one of them. The patent is for a Dynamic Keyboard.  

I’ve written in the past about my great-grandfather Thomas E Murray, who was a well-respected inventor with 462 patents around the turn of the century.  What I never wrote about was another measure of an inventor’s influence – and that is the number of times a patent is cited by other inventors.  When you site a patent, it’s like telling people “these are the shoulders I’m standing on”, they’re my prior art.  This keyboard patent is cited by 23 other patents.  It’s a real patent.

Another interesting part of a patent are its claims.  The number of claims is a good indicator of the complexity or completeness of a patent.  Mine have 30 or so.  This one has 124.  That’s insane.

Now, to the lawsuit.  Semantic is suing the makers of the app “Speak for Yourself” for infringement.  Guaranteed this isn’t the first time these two parties have come into contact.  The first thing you generally do in this sort of situation is say “Hey – I see you’re using my technology, would you like to purchase a license?”.  Only if they’ve been ignored or haven’t been able to come to a satisfactory agreement on the license would anyone file suit.

One never goes to court lightly.  And this suit was filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, which isn’t exactly Troll Country.  These lawsuits can be expensive,  an infringement suit can be like $5-$10 million dollars expensive.

The real point here is that the app must be making enough money to make persuing a lawsuit worthwhile.  Otherwise it makes no sense to do it.

Off the top of my head, there are a couple of simple solutions to the problem:

  • Pay a reasonable license fee.   This would be something like 10% of sales or whatever you can negotiate.  The probem is they’re making money off their app.
  • Change the app so as not to infringe. 
  • Move the app out of the country – to a country where it’s not patented.  Deliver it as a service.  Try Canada.  US patents stop at the US border.

A couple of interesting alternatives:

  • Hackers – go check out the app.  Clone it.  Give it away.  Richard Stallman did this with Lisp and started GNU.  This is right up his alley!  Suing Open Source projects with no money makes no sense.  And when you take the money out of the equation, then you can really build up some good ol’ moral outrage!
  • Crowdsource the license fee for the “Speak for Yourself” app.  Go to kickstarter, everyone throw in $1, it’ll make you feel good.

But the patents aren’t the problem here.  Making money off someone else’s patent without paying a license fee is.  And that makes little girls, and poor inventors, cry.


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