The Delaware Federal Court has ordered Amazon to pay $46.7 million for infringement on four patents belonging to VB Properties including Amazon’s Echo smart speakers and Alexa virtual assistant. A lawsuit from VB Properties of Nuance Communications, formerly known as VoiceBox Technologies, says it has developed a virtual speaker that can connect to the web and respond to voice calls with a female, robotic voice. .
Thursday’s verdict (PDF), initially reported about Reutersordered Amazon to pay the sum through running the king rather than a whole sum. The verdict followed a verdict (PDF) finding that Amazon had infringed on four of VoiceBox’s licenses. The patents relate to the provision of network-integrated communication services, interactive voice user interfaces, and advertisements linked to natural language processing of voice-based input. VB Properties originally accused Amazon of infringing on six of its patents.
Amazon still has time to appeal the ruling, and VoiceBox has time to seek compensation for related costs.
Patent infringement claims
VoiceBox says it developed a prototype of something similar to Echo and Alexa long before Amazon announced the products. In fact, his lawsuit, filed in 2019 (PDFs), with a link to a video on YouTube that appears to be a news report about VoiceBox’s “Cybermind” design. The video appears to show a report from Seattle’s King 5 News from 2006, showing someone asking the speaker questions like, “Computer, what’s the NBA schedule?” and “Computer, what’s the forecast for Sunday?” as well as selling, such as “Computer, find me a good recipe for chocolate cheesecake.” A voice from the speaker responds to questions or requests, reported by pulling the answers from the Internet or a connected computer.
You can check out the reference video and the design in action below:
The lawsuit says VoiceBox’s founders began work on bringing natural language understanding to computer applications in 2001. Headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, VoiceBox has made voice control applications for TomTom and other GPS and automotive brands, Reuters notice.
The VoiceBox lawsuit states that VoiceBox introduced a voice assistant for Lexus vehicles called Alexus that “demonstrates the power of its interactive Voice technology.” The lawsuit states that “the ‘Alexus’ concept was introduced to the public more than six months before Amazon announced ‘Alexa'”.
Like other patent cases against tech giants, the lawsuit also claims that Amazon invited VoiceBox employees into meetings about VoiceBox technologies, only to end up killing the company’s ideas and poaching employees. . The VoiceBox lawsuit states that VoiceBox first met with Amazon in 2011 “to explore a potential business relationship where VoiceBox Technologies would provide core services (natural language understanding) to Amazon.” Amazon announced Amazon Echo and Alexa in 2014. VoiceBox also said it had meetings about its patents with Amazon in 2017.
Amazon did not respond to Ars Technica’s request for comment.
Another road bump for Alexa
The ruling this week contrasts a 2021 ruling in a Delaware federal court finding that Alexa did not infringe patents by IPA Technologies Inc., as Reuters reported. While not nearly as judgmental as seen in other recent patent cases and a drop in the bucket in terms of Amazon’s total revenueThe lawsuit against Amazon comes at an uncomfortable time of uncertainty and flux for its voice assistant.
By the end of 2022, Business Insider reported that Alexa is poised to lose Amazon $10 billion that year. Amazon has never confirmed that figure, but there is no denying that voice assistants have brainstormed ways to try to increase the amount of revenue generated by such technologies. Amazon’s longtime head of devices, David Limp, is also leaving the company this year.
Hoping to change things, Amazon in September introduced the original Alexa AI goals and hopes that the voice assistant will eventually become so advanced and helpful that customers will be willing to pay a subscription to use its most amazing features. However, Amazon is years away from making that idea feasible.