A Small Firm Takes on the Big Smartphone Makers over Voice Patents
In a rare speech-related case of David versus Goliath, Potter Voice Technologies, an obscure company based in Brighton, Colo., has filed a federal patent infringement lawsuit against the 15 largest electronics manufacturers in the world. The suit alleges that the companies infringed on a 14-year-old patent that covers technology used in Apple's Siri and other electronic products that rely on voice commands to control computer functions.
The lawsuit, filed in late April in a Denver federal court, names Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Google, HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, ZTE, Kyocera, Sharp, Huawei, Pantech, Research in Motion, and Nokia as defendants. It claims willful infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,729,659, which was issued to Jerry Potter by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on March 17, 1998.
The suit revolves around Siri, the voice app that Apple began shipping on iPhone 4S models late last year, as well as Google Voice Actions, and Microsoft's Windows Speech Commands. It seeks damages, royalties, and other financial compensation and an injunction against the defendants from further developing the technology. Though the suit is directed at 15 defendants, it specifically targets several in particular—Apple, Microsoft, and Sony—which Potter claims must have known about the patent, citing a 2004 case involving SRI International, which developed Siri and sold it to Apple in 2010.
"Apple's Siri and Google's Google Voice Actions make cell phones and other electronic devices much more useful for customers, but those products and others would never have been possible if not for the technology embodied in Potter's patent," said Christopher Banys, an intellectual property attorney with the Lanier law firm in Palo Alto, Calif., which is representing Potter in the case.
"The defendants have collected a fortune using Potter's technology," Banys added, "and we are asking the court for at least a reasonable royalty based on their unauthorized use."
Patent litigation among mobile device makers is nothing new as competition has heated up in the very lucrative mobile market in the past few years.
Do Supreme Court decisions limit patent abuse?
An argument against innovation.
The unique nature of software patents makes the question a complicated one.