Nuance Communications said today it’s bought several patents related to IBM’s speech recognition technology, joining Microsoft as one of the two the largest licensors of such technology. IBM, Nuance and Microsoft all provide speech-to-text and voice recognition products, an industry that’s growing in importance as devices makers seek more intuitive user interfaces. Even Google is trying to stake a claim in this sector by developing its own speech platform. But aside from consolidating the field, Nuance’s acquisition could end up causing speech-related startups some grief.
Services that range from transcribing voicemails, to the ability to voice an instruction to your phone and have it execute the task, rely on speech recognition technology to create easier to use interfaces for everything from in-car navigation devices to mobile phones. Steve Chambers, president of Nuance’s mobile enterprise division, says the deal with IBM, the terms of which weren’t disclosed, involves the patents tied to server-side voice recognition, such as those used by interactive voice response systems. Nuance also gets the patents related to delivering voice recognition and speech-to-text for use in personal navigation devices. That technology can also be used in high-end mobile phones, Chambers says.
In addition to customers such as Honda, which use IBM’s speech technology, countless startups license it to provide their own speech-dependent services, from Vlingo to Dial 4 Directions. With this deal, some such as Vlingo, which is currently being sued by Nuance for patent infringement, might have second thoughts about their licensing partner. Chambers says the Vlingo lawsuit and the patent deal are like “apples and oranges,” and stresses that Nuance will still license the technology to existing IBM partners. He said the company has never refused a license except in one case, where the company was suing Nuance.
Nuance has acquired several companies in the last few years to consolidate its position in speech recognition. It has gone from medical transcriptions and its Dragon Naturally Speaking Product to providing the voice recognition on several mobile phones. However, both Microsoft (which bought TellMe) and Google, which used Nuance’s technology until developing its own, are also eager to own the speech platform.