Blog Post

Firm claims Apple’s Siri, Google devices violate 1998 speech patent

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

In a sweeping lawsuit, a Colorado shell company is suing the entire mobile phone industry over a patent for inventions where “Oral input is used to control a digital computer.”

The lawsuit singles out Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone 4S and its Siri voice assistant as well as a range of phone makers like Samsung and Sony(s sne) that use Google Voice Actions (s goog) technology. The claim also names Research In Motion (s rimm) for BlackBerry Voice commands and Microsoft (s msft) for Microsoft Speech Commands.

Records show that the patent was issued to Jerry Potter in 1998. Last year, Potter assigned the patent to a Texas shell company which in turn assigned it to a Colorado shell company called Potter Voice LLC that is suing the phone makers.

It’s unclear if Potter was actually a pioneering inventor of voice technology or whether the patent is another in a series of dubious patents that has been driving a never-ending series of court fights in the mobile industry. Patent standards became particularly lax in the late 1990’s as the Patent Office issued thousands of “business method” patents that have subsequently attracted criticism from law makers and the Supreme Court.

The abstract of US patent 5729659 says:

Oral input is used to control a digital computer. Associative searching techniques of tabular data structures are used in conjunction with rules and conventions derived from natural language to facilitate the use of oral input. The method is capable of being implemented in connection with conventional sequential computers, associative single-instruction multiple data computers and parallel processors.

Patents like these have become the fuel of global litigation engulfing the smartphone industry. In some cases, the phone makers buy the patents themselves. Other times, private hedge funds form shell companies that don’t produce anything but do make a business of suing companies that do — a practice known as trolling.

The Supreme Court has responded to the patent problem in part by tightening the definition of “obvious” and Congress last year passed patent legislation that makes it easier to attack suspect patents (the law doesn’t apply to older patents).

Yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook complained about the ceaseless patent battles, saying “I’ve always hated litigation .. We just want people to invent their own stuff.”

Here is a copy of the complaint:

Potter Voice v. Apple Et Al

20 Responses to “Firm claims Apple’s Siri, Google devices violate 1998 speech patent”

  1. Umm, I remember having a very nice microphone supplied by Apple in the mid 90’s, before Steve Jobs came back. The microphone allowed a person to command the Mac to do stuff like open files, or start applications, get the time, etc. how these people got a patent for something that was PRACTICED before their patent application, is amazing to me!

  2. I thought patents had to display original thought. This one just seems to rehash an idea, controlling computers by talking to them, that’s been around since at least 1968 with the release of 2001: A Space Oddysey. Can I go back through all the old Sci Fi movies and patent anything that looks cool?

  3. JustDl Betty

    Why isn’t this broad sweeping term “using vocal input to control a digital computer” licensed or is if offered for licensing of Frand patents? It should be. Did it take them until now to discover that Google, Apple and Microsoft, Samsung and the whole phone industry to court and sue them?
    Reasonable and non-discriminatory terms (RAND), also known as fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms (FRAND), are a licensing obligation that is often required by standard-setting organizations for members that participate in the standard-setting process.[1] Standard-setting organizations are the industry groups that set common standards for a particular industry in order to ensure compatibility and interoperability of devices manufactured by different companies.

  4. Richard

    Well no matter If the patent had a product to go with it when it was patented it’s a patent and when they passed it they should have thought of that and made guide lines for it. I say they have a real case and before any big company goes about putting new functions in products that should pay someone to look into patents passed before. And it should be required that when company’s put out new products that a patent need to go with it. Simple and with all te money company’s are making someone dropped
    The ball…. That’s why maybe mr.Jobs never gave a go to the 4S. The last was the 4 and pad2……. Without jobs apple is just another company and nothing else


    So dragon dictate by Nuance, the company apple purchased to bring Siri to the iPhone 4s, for the last 10 years never violated the patent in question?

    This is trolling at it’s best.

  6. Sohrobby

    Does this patent even cover an actual protype working device or was it just a vague description of functionality that was never actually engineered? Hey I have an idea, I have now decided that I own the patent to communicating with my toilet paper dispenser in the bathroom to let me know when the tp is about to run out. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait until someone actually invents this thing and I can sue the crap out of them and hope they settle out of court. This is getting ridiculous.

  7. Sinan Karasu

    Voice of Computer: Negative, there is no replacement Beryllium Sphere on board.
    Gwen DeMarco: [to crew] No, there is no replacement Beryllium Sphere on board.
    Tommy Webber: You know, that is really getting annoying!
    Gwen DeMarco: [shouts] Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it’s *stupid*, but I’m gonna do it! Okay?
    Tommy Webber: Sure, no problem.

  8. Michael S

    Funny how Apple has all of these lawsuits when they become massively successful. It may be true that they violated the patent but if it infringed on an actual product, I can see that argument being valid. Otherwise, this firm needs to wait in line with all the other parasites that want a free piece of Google and the Apple pie.