Nuance Takes On Microsoft and Google With IBM Deal

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nuancelogocolorNuance Communications (s NUAN) said today it’s bought several patents related to IBM’s (s IBM) speech recognition technology, joining Microsoft (s msft) 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 (s GOOG) 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 (s hmc), 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.

9 Comments

Amen Corner

Amen to that James! Nuance makes life hell on the little guy try to make a living in this new area. I just don’t understand how they get away with the stuff they do – of course you need to ask where all the money comes from – and all you need to do is look to the crooks on Wall Street.

James Doe

Everyone in the speech industry knows why Nuance got hold of the patents –
so they can continue to intimidate small companies with lawsuits. Nuance
has been pursuing a strategy of threatening small speech companies with
patent lawsuits and using that as a tool to buy them up cheaply, thus eliminating the competition. It’s just a pity that IBM was desperate enough to sell them these patents – it’s like giving a gun to a serial killer.

courtney benson

Nuance has been big in the speech recognition space for sometime now and they have been buying up companies that have been great fits and or competitors. They have made significant inroads into many verticals and are number one in healthcare and financial services. Speech is their game – so unless they make a big mistake I can’t see anyone beating them for sometime.

Graham

The reason Nuance is gobbling up everything in sight has to do with what Google is doing. Google has the most advanced translation engine in the world because it had the largest sample size of comparable texts from millions of scanned books. Now with Google 411 they have amassed the largest dataset of voice patterns upon which to base a speech recognition engine. Google Voice Search on mobile phones in the first major app and contributes further to the dataset which in turn will improve the recognition engine. I think at this point holding the patents and somehow finding Google in violation is the best option Nuance has for combating their biggest competitor.

brian

It’s good to see a smaller company be ahead of the giants. This is a fast growing market that will eventually be integrated into all electronics.

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