VoiceOver saved in Apple, Samsung patent battle

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Thursday, 7 March 2013 14:29pm

Apple's screen reader VoiceOver has been saved from being removed from Apple devices, after a German court ruled against Samsung's claim that VoiceOver breached one of its patents. The ruling comes as a relief to the blind and vision impaired community.

VoiceOver is an assistive tool that interprets text on screen and delivers this information back to the user in audible form. This enables blind users to navigate and access apps on their device. When VoiceOver was first introduced in iOS devices in 2009, it became an affordable alternative to other commercial screen readers.

Over the years, improvements to this text-to-speech technology have been introduced. Currently, VoiceOver even allows blind users to take photos. As Greg's Tech Blog points out, VoiceOver has become "intelligent enough to help blind users take photographs by identifying the faces on the screen and their location in the frame".

According to Samsung's lawyers, VoiceOver breaches a patent that allows a text-to-speech feature to be activated through the press of a button. If Samsung's claim had succeeded, VoiceOver could have been removed from all Apple iOS devices including the iPhone and iPad.

The case sparked widespread expressions of support for Apple by the blind and vision impaired community and advocacy organisations. Speaking to Ability Magazine, a spokesperson for the British Computer Society for the Blind said, "If something as important as access to telephone technology had been blocked by the actions of one company over another the consequences for blind people everywhere would be regrettable in the extreme." 

When Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, US blind advocacy group the National Federation of the Blind released a statement expressing the significance of Apple's accessibility to the blind and vision impaired community.

Dr Marc Maurer, President of the USA’s National Federation of the Blind, said in the statement: “Mr Jobs demonstrated tremendous vision in leadership in many ways, one of which is the incorporation of access for the blind and others with disabilities into the design of Apple’s groundbreaking product line.

“Virtually no other manufacturer of mainstream consumer technology has done more to build accessibility into its products than Apple has under Mr. Jobs’s leadership."

Samsung and Apple, the two largest smartphone manufacturers in the world, are involved in a number of patent cases against one another in courts around the world.

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