The latest in a string of patent lawsuits has just been announced: a relatively unknown Colorado company named Potter Voice Technologies claims that all major smartphone vendors, including Apple, are infringing on a patent on natural-language voice control of a computer.
Apple's in good company -- the other companies named in the lawsuit include Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, Samsung Electronics, Sony, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility, ZTE, Huawei Technologies, Kyocera, Sharp, and Pantech. Potter Voice Technologies is seeking damages "but in no event less than a reasonable royalty," injunctions against the companies, and attorney's fees.
Potter claims that Apple, Microsoft and Sony must have known about its patent and that the three companies are guilty of willful infringement, which allows for increased damages to the plaintiff. The patent, "Method and apparatus for controlling a digital computer using oral input," was issued in 1998 and was cited in a 2004 patent filing involving SRI International, the company which developed Siri.
Potter's idea was to eliminate the training that was required for other voice-control systems. The patent describes spoken words being received by a microphone, interpreted by voice recognition algorithms, and then being used to "search the contents of a tabular data structure organized in rows and columns."
The defendants may have the America Invents Act on their side. The law, which went into effect last year, was designed to discourage patent trolls from going after multiple parties in one suit.