Yes, this move by Samsung against Apple was a tactical one in a nasty battle in which billions of dollars are at stake. Yes, it’s just business. But it’s ill-conceived. Even leaving aside the ethics of asserting a patent against a feature designed to help the blind, this is unwise. 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. It has made a big public move to make it more difficult for the blind to use computers.
I still believe it’s the wrong thing to assert an accessibility-related patent in a dispute like this one. Samsung didn’t assert this German patent in an effort to protect its investment in accessibility. It elected to use an accessibility-related patent as a tactical weapon. Patent protection and enforcement can be justified in certain scenarios. For example, if there are two companies competing in the market for hearing aids, it’s generally legitimate for them to assert accessibility-related patents against each other. I would also support the idea of accessibility patent enforcement in cases of willful infringement, and 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.
Maybe Samsung can find features that help people with other disabilities to attack next.