Alexa simply price Amazon one other $46.7 million

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By Calvin S. Nelson

Enlarge / The primary Amazon Echo speaker.

Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg through Getty Pictures

A Delaware federal court docket has ordered Amazon to pay $46.7 million for infringing on 4 patents belonging to VB Property with Amazon’s Echo good audio system and Alexa digital assistant. A lawsuit from Nuance Communications-owned VB Property, beforehand often known as VoiceBox Applied sciences, claimed to have already invented a round speaker that would connect with the online and reply voice-dictated prompts with a feminine, robotic voice.

Wednesday’s judgment [PDF], initially reported by Reuters, orders Amazon to pay the sum through working royalty slightly than a lump sum. The ruling follows a jury verdict [PDF] discovering that Amazon infringed upon 4 of VoiceBox’s patents. The patents relate to offering network-coordinated conversational providers, a conversational voice consumer interface, and tying ads to pure language processing of voice-based enter. VB Property initially accused Amazon of infringing on six of its patents.

Amazon nonetheless has time to enchantment the judgment, and VoiceBox has time to hunt reimbursement for associated prices.

Patent infringement claims

VoiceBox claimed that it developed a prototype of one thing much like Echo and Alexa lengthy earlier than Amazon’s merchandise have been introduced. In reality, its lawsuit, filed in 2019 [PDFs], included a hyperlink to a video on YouTube showing to be a information report about VoiceBox’s “Cybermind” prototype. The video seemingly exhibits a report from Seattle’s King 5 Information from 2006, demoing somebody asking a speaker questions like, “Pc, what’s the NBA schedule?” and “Pc, what’s the forecast for Sunday?” in addition to prompts, akin to “Pc, discover me a superb recipe for chocolate cheesecake.” A voice from the speaker responds to the questions or prompts, reportedly by pulling solutions from the Web or the related laptop.

You’ll be able to try the cited video and the prototype in motion under:

Seattle’s King 5 Information in 2006.

The lawsuit claimed VoiceBox’s founders started work on bringing pure language understanding to laptop functions in 2001. Headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, VoiceBox has made voice-controlled apps for TomTom and different GPS manufacturers and automobiles, Reuters famous.

VoiceBox’s lawsuit claimed VoiceBox demoed a voice assistant for Lexus automobiles referred to as Alexus “that showcased the ability of its conversational Voice expertise.” The lawsuit claimed that the “’Alexus’ idea was launched to the general public greater than six months earlier than Amazon introduced ‘Alexa.'”

Like different patent circumstances in opposition to tech giants, the lawsuit additionally claimed that Amazon invited VoiceBox staff into conferences about VoiceBox’s applied sciences, solely to finish up ripping off the corporate’s concepts and poaching staff. VoiceBox’s lawsuit claimed VoiceBox first met with Amazon in 2011 “to discover a possible enterprise relationship the place VoiceBox Applied sciences would offer core [natural language understanding] providers to Amazon.” Amazon introduced the Amazon Echo and Alexa in 2014. VoiceBox additionally claimed to have had conferences about its patents with Amazon in 2017.

Amazon did not reply to Ars Technica’s request for remark.

One other highway bump for Alexa

The judgment handed down this week contrasts a 2021 ruling in a Delaware federal court docket discovering that Alexa doesn’t infringe upon patents by IPA Applied sciences Inc., as Reuters reported. Whereas not practically as sizeable a judgment as we have seen in different latest patent circumstances and a drop within the bucket when it comes to Amazon’s total income, the ruling in opposition to Amazon comes at an inconvenient time of uncertainty and flux for its voice assistant.

On the finish of 2022, Enterprise Insider reported that Alexa was poised to lose Amazon $10 billion that yr. Amazon by no means confirmed that determine, however there is no denying that voice assistant peddlers have been desperately brainstorming methods to attempt to improve the quantity of income such applied sciences generate. Amazon’s long-time units head, David Limp, can also be leaving the corporate this yr.

Hoping to show issues round, Amazon in September revealed its generative AI Alexa ambitions and hopes that the voice assistant will finally turn out to be so superior and useful that prospects can be keen to pay a subscription payment to make use of its most spectacular options. Nevertheless, Amazon is years away from making that concept viable.

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