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Samsung bid to block iPhone feature for the blind denied in German court

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A German court has denied Samsung’s request to block an iPhone text-to-voice feature that the company said infringed on one of its patents.

The companies have been locked in a bitter worldwide battle over intellectual property, but the German case drew particular attention because it involved an iPhone feature that’s been highly praised by advocates for the blind and visually impaired.

Apple’s VoiceOver feature reads a screen’s content aloud when users click an iPhone’s home button three times in a row. Samsung claimed, however, that it has patented using a button to launch this kind of feature, and asked for an iPhone ban.

That drew concerns from disability advocates, who said forcing Apple to change the way the feature works would have a harmful impact on smartphone users who rely on audio cues to operate their phones. It is possible to turn on the feature using Apple’s standard menus, but that’s very difficult for those who can’t use the device’s screen.

“If Samsung had been successful, would have been a hardship for blind people,” said National Federation for the Blind spokesman Chris Danielson. He suggested that Samsung could have asked for monetary compensation. That way, he said, the company could still air its grievances without making any device more difficult to use.

“I don’t want to take away anybody’s right to protect their patents ... but hope it would be done in a way that would negatively affect accessibility,” he said.

When asked for comment on the case, Samsung did not specifically address the VoiceOver feature or the concerns of disability advocates.

“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,” the company said in a press statement. “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.”

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling declined to comment on an ongoing legal matter.

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