Samsung struggles to block iPhone function for the blind

VoiceOver The VoiceOver function is designed to help blind and partially sighted consumers use the iPhone

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Samsung has suffered a setback in its effort to win an iPhone ban based on a function making its software accessible to blind people.

The South Korean firm had sought an injunction in a German court arguing Apple's VoiceOver screen-access facility infringed one of its patents.

However, the judge has ordered the case to be suspended pending another ruling that could invalidate Samsung's claim.

Disability campaigners had expressed concern about the case.

Apple's VoiceOver function is used by blind and partially-sighted people to hear a description of what the iPhone is showing by touching its screen.

The software covers text and icons including audio descriptions of the battery level and network signal. It also allows the phones to be operated via Braille-based add-ons.

Samsung had argued that Apple had failed to licence a patent it owned which describes pressing a button to make a handset describe its display. The basis for this was that VoiceOver could be switched on by triple-clicking the iPhone's home button.

Apple declined to comment.

A statement from Samsung said: "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.

"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."

'Regrettable in the extreme'

Patent consultant Florian Muller, who was first to report the Mannheim Court's decision, questioned Samsung's tactics.

"If Samsung had only requested monetary compensation in this action, it would have made a much better choice than by trying to achieve, through the pursuit of an injunction, the deactivation or (more realistically) degradation of the voiceover functionality Apple provides to its German customers," he wrote on his blog.

The British Computer Association of the Blind said it was worried such an important feature might be threatened.

"A lack of access to information is arguably the biggest potential barrier to inclusion in society for blind and partially-sighted people," a spokesman told the BBC.

"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."

The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD tech site was more damning.

"Leaving aside the ethics of asserting a patent against a feature designed to help the blind, this is unwise," wrote John Paczkowski.

"It's the PR equivalent of punching yourself in the face. Samsung has now identified itself as a company willing to accept the loss of accessibility for the vision-impaired as collateral damage in its battle with Apple."

Apple and Samsung have fought a number of patent cases against each other in courts across the world.

The biggest award involved a US jury ordering Samsung to pay Apple $1.05bn (£688m) in damages. The judge in the case later rejected Apple's call for the sum to be increased and a sales ban on some Samsung handsets.

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