Apple's Siri latest target in string of natural language patent lawsuits

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2017
One-man company Word to Info on Friday expanded a string of patent lawsuits over natural language processing technology -- active cases involve Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Nuance -- to include Apple, taking specific aim at the tech titan's Siri virtual assistant.




Filed in the patent holder-friendly Eastern Texas District Court, Word to Info's suit alleges infringement of seven patents detailing methods of natural language processing. The company asserted the same series of patents against a number of tech industry giants marketing their own voice recognition and virtual assistant solutions.

Specifically, Word to Info is leveraging U.S. Patent Nos. 5,715,468, 6,138,087, 6,609,091, 7,349,840, 7,873,509, 8,326,603 and 8,688,436 in its case against Apple. The IP string covering methods of interpreting natural language input dates back to 1998, when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the '468 property to inventor and Word to Info director Robert Budzinski.

Word to Info claims Apple has knowledge of at least one of the patents-in-suit, which was cited "at least 65 times" in various Apple IP. Such listings include U.S. Patent Nos. 8,713,119, 8,903,716 and 9,548,050, each relating to personalized virtual assistants with contextual language processing capabilities.

For example, the '050 patent describes techniques of creating a virtual assistant that can engage with a user in an "integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog." Prior knowledge of the patent or patents could prove willful infringement on Apple's part.

Apple debuted Siri alongside iPhone 4S in 2011. Initially based on Nuance voice recognition and natural language processing technology, Siri in its most recent iterations is powered by Apple's in-house engines. Less rigid than legacy rulesets, the latest software relies on cutting-edge artificial intelligence and deep neural networks developed by Apple engineers, some of whom were poached from Nuance.

Budzinski and Word to Info has been on the hunt over the past few months, using the same batch of patents in separate cases targeting Amazon's Alexa, Google's Knowledge Graph, Microsoft's Cortana and Nuance's LinkBase software. Nuance was the first to see action in a complaint filed against the company's software and services in January.

Very little is known about Word to Info, though it seems the firm is a non-practicing entity solely reliant on Budzinski's owned properties. A number of business tracking websites list the Texas entity as a personal services company founded in 2013 under the "Photographer, Still or Video" category. Tax documents show Word to Info operates at an address that appears to be Budzinski's house.

Complaints lodged in each of the active cases do not mention whether Word to Info attempted to license its patented technology to the defendants prior to litigation.

The suit arrives just one month before Apple is expected to release iOS 11 with enhanced Siri functionality. In the next-generation operating system, Apple's virtual assistant benefits from a revamped backend that boasts more natural sounding responses and hooks into advanced features like language translations.

Word to Info seeks unspecified damages and reimbursement of attorney fees in its case against Apple.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 20
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,362member
    Why would anyone want to sue Apple? I don't get it /s

    So basically east Texas judicial district is the Delaware of law. 

    Also interesting:

    "One-man company"
    edited August 2017 watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 20
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Total Bullshit, but hey its East Texas so it is to be expected.
    MuntzStrangeDayswatto_cobraCalikid55
  • Reply 3 of 20
    Surely new natural voice methods have been created since 1998. 
  • Reply 4 of 20
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,117moderator
    "...creating a virtual assistant that can engage with a user in an "integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog."

    The patent is from 1998.

    The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968.  What part of 'obvious' or 'prior art' does Budzinski not understand?  
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 20
    leighrleighr Posts: 184member
    I think that Google and Microsoft have more of a case to answer to Apple for, for blatantly copying Siri, than this guy. Not to mention that speech recognition was developed way before 1998.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 20
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,291member
    More evidence against vague patents for software ideas rather than copyright protection for actual implementation (code). 

    Software patents are overreaching and lame. 
    bonobobwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 20
    Either this guy will die very very rich or everyone remember him as a moron.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 20
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,642member
    This will be interesting since Nuance, owe most all the patents related to voice technology than any other company, if they did not created the technology themselves they bought the companies who did ovee the last 20 or so years. I never understood why Apple never bought them or Google or Microsoft for that fact, there is a reason no one touched this company and everyone just licensed their technology.

    The reason this is as hard fight is the face this guy has no income or product the 
    Nuance cannot counter sue to make it all go away. I guess this guy figured his time is running out and this is his last chance to cash in.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 20
    sergiozsergioz Posts: 241member
    Why do big companies don't sue each other over things like that? Because this job is exclusive to trolls!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 20
    robjnrobjn Posts: 222member
    Patent troll? This is different. This guy is the actual inventor and was smart enough to write and be awarded patents on this back in 1998. Apple cited his work dozens of times. Interesting case.
    cornchipSpamSandwich
  • Reply 11 of 20
    croprcropr Posts: 955member
    "...creating a virtual assistant that can engage with a user in an "integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog."

    The patent is from 1998.

    The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968.  What part of 'obvious' or 'prior art' does Budzinski not understand?  
    2001: A Space Odyssey is definitely art and it is prior to 1998, but it is not prior art in the legal sense.  Not everything shown in a movie is actually real technology, a lot is faked or simulated.
    MacPro
  • Reply 12 of 20
    croprcropr Posts: 955member
    sergioz said:
    Why do big companies don't sue each other over things like that? Because this job is exclusive to trolls!
    Because big companies can counter sue easily with other patents, which typically ends in a stalemate where only the lawyers win.
    sergioz
  • Reply 13 of 20
    robjn said:
    Patent troll? This is different. This guy is the actual inventor and was smart enough to write and be awarded patents on this back in 1998. Apple cited his work dozens of times. Interesting case.
    Citing other peoples work in patent applications is done all the time. You can use the same Idea as someone else but as long as you do not copy the methods described in the other patents you are good to go. That's what you pay the patent lawyers the big bucks to work out.
    The problem comes when the numbskulls at the USPTO grant overly broad patents. These effectively block anyone else from working in the same area without infringing these broad patents.
    There are many cases that have ended up with the original patent being invalidated.

    If Apple, MS , Amazon etc were smart they'd file a gazillion motions to combine the cases and then take it to higher courts to get his patents invalidated.
    Voice Recognition has been around for several decades and not just in Movies. The validity of his case depends upon the wording of his patent. From my limited experience one-man-band patents tend to go for overly broad methods. These are just waiting to be shot down in flames.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 20
    farmboyfarmboy Posts: 152member

    Prior knowledge of the patent or patents could prove willful infringement on Apple's part.
    Um, no. 

    There may or may not be infringement, but knowledge of an inventive step in someone's research, a published patent applications or issued patents is both advisable and perfectly legal. It only matters if you have somehow actually infringed issued patents. Your summary doesn't indicate any evidence of that.
  • Reply 15 of 20
    farmboyfarmboy Posts: 152member

    rotateleftbyte said: Citing other peoples work in patent applications is done all the time. You can use the same Idea as someone else but as long as you do not copy the methods described in the other patents you are good to go. That's what you pay the patent lawyers the big bucks to work out.
    The problem comes when the numbskulls at the USPTO grant overly broad patents. These effectively block anyone else from working in the same area without infringing these broad patents.
    There are many cases that have ended up with the original patent being invalidated.

    If Apple, MS , Amazon etc were smart they'd file a gazillion motions to combine the cases and then take it to higher courts to get his patents invalidated.
    Voice Recognition has been around for several decades and not just in Movies. The validity of his case depends upon the wording of his patent. From my limited experience one-man-band patents tend to go for overly broad methods. These are just waiting to be shot down in flames.

    Yes, citing prior art usually required. You want to show how your invention doesn't infringe.
    It's not typical that patents "effectively block" others from inventing things. Can't think of any invention that has not reached the world simply because of another patent.
    There are some rare cases of patents being invalidated. Several hundred thousand of patent applications, a few hundred thousand issued patents per year. Challenges are way up, but invalidation is rare.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 16 of 20
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,471member
    More evidence against vague patents for software ideas rather than copyright protection for actual implementation (code). 

    Software patents are overreaching and lame. 
    Exactly.  I don't understand how the following description gets a patent:
    "...techniques of creating a virtual assistant that can engage with a user in an "integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog." 

    It's the techniques that are entitled to a patent, not the general idea.   Otherwise, can I patent:
    "techniques for creating a virtual assistant that can read people's minds"?
    "techniques for creating a virtual assistant that can automatically and aurally translate one language to another"?
    "enable transportation via a flying car"
    "transport people though the air from one location to another in less than one second"?
    "enable the viewing of data by reading a screen display"?
    "a device that enables a human to fly like a drone"?
    Etc.


  • Reply 17 of 20
    zoetmb said:
    More evidence against vague patents for software ideas rather than copyright protection for actual implementation (code). 

    Software patents are overreaching and lame. 
    Exactly.  I don't understand how the following description gets a patent:
    "...techniques of creating a virtual assistant that can engage with a user in an "integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog." 

    It's the techniques that are entitled to a patent, not the general idea.   Otherwise, can I patent:
    "techniques for creating a virtual assistant that can read people's minds"?
    "techniques for creating a virtual assistant that can automatically and aurally translate one language to another"?
    "enable transportation via a flying car"
    "transport people though the air from one location to another in less than one second"?
    "enable the viewing of data by reading a screen display"?
    "a device that enables a human to fly like a drone"?
    Etc.


    Yes, you could patent any of those things described as long as they don't infringe on other IP. You didn't say anything about "perpetual motion devices", so it's all fair game.
  • Reply 18 of 20
    "...creating a virtual assistant that can engage with a user in an "integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog."

    The patent is from 1998.

    The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968.  What part of 'obvious' or 'prior art' does Budzinski not understand?  
    That description is of, and the quoted language is from, an Apple patent (i.e. one for which Apple is the assignee) not one of Mr. Budzinski's patents. It's a patent application filed in 2012.

    More importantly to your point, that language is from the abstract. The abstract doesn't fully describe what is actually patented. The claims in that patent are more specific and include numerous elements, all of which would need to be present for infringement to occur. Or, those elements would all need to be present in prior art or obvious based on prior art in order for prior art to preclude the issuance of the patent or provide a basis for invalidating it.
  • Reply 19 of 20

    zoetmb said:
    More evidence against vague patents for software ideas rather than copyright protection for actual implementation (code). 

    Software patents are overreaching and lame. 
    Exactly.  I don't understand how the following description gets a patent:
    "...techniques of creating a virtual assistant that can engage with a user in an "integrated, conversational manner using natural language dialog." 

    It's the techniques that are entitled to a patent, not the general idea.   Otherwise, can I patent:
    "techniques for creating a virtual assistant that can read people's minds"?
    "techniques for creating a virtual assistant that can automatically and aurally translate one language to another"?
    "enable transportation via a flying car"
    "transport people though the air from one location to another in less than one second"?
    "enable the viewing of data by reading a screen display"?
    "a device that enables a human to fly like a drone"?
    Etc.


    The description isn't what gets the patent. The claims are what set out what is covered by the patent. The claims for that patent (i.e. the '050 patent) - even the independent claims - are made up of quite a few elements.

    Something would not be infringing the patent just because it did what's in that description. It would have to contain all of the elements listed in a given claim.
  • Reply 20 of 20
    farmboy said:

    Prior knowledge of the patent or patents could prove willful infringement on Apple's part.
    Um, no. 

    There may or may not be infringement, but knowledge of an inventive step in someone's research, a published patent applications or issued patents is both advisable and perfectly legal. It only matters if you have somehow actually infringed issued patents. Your summary doesn't indicate any evidence of that.
    The patent holder would, of course, have to prove infringement. The OP's point in that passage was that, if there was infringement, prior knowledge could help prove that such infringement was willful.
    edited August 2017
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