• July 15, 2008
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Speech Fills the Docket

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Speech technologies are no stranger to the courts, given that dictation solutions are a popular fixture among court reporters, stenographers, and law firms that represent the litigants. The past few weeks, however, have seen a lot more court activity in which speech technology vendors are the litigants.

Since mid-May, the courts have ruled on a number of patent disputes between speech technology vendors, while many more cases have been filed or still await a decision.

Perhaps one of the most hotly contested battles involves speech analytics vendors Verint and NICE Systems, which have been waging a patent war  since 2004. That war resulted in two not-so-nice rulings against NICE. The first, handed down May 16 in a U.S. district court in Atlanta, awarded Verint more than $3.3 million in damages. In that case, the jury determined that features of NICE’s analytics products infringe on U.S. Patent 6,404,857, which Witness Systems (acquired by Verint in 2007) filed in 1996. The patent relates to emotion detection, word spotting, and talk-over detection in speech analytics solutions.

The second ruling in Verint’s favor came just after Memorial Day when another Georgia jury denied NICE’s claim that Verint infringed on one of its patents (U.S. Patent Number 6,871,229) covering an IP recording solution.

Two other cases between Verint and NICE have yet to be resolved. One, filed by NICE, ended in January with a deadlocked jury and awaits a new trial date. The other, filed by Verint, involves a screen-capture patent. Verint is seeking more than $30 million in damages and a permanent injunction that bars NICE from making or selling any infringing speech-analytics products. A trial date has yet to be set.

Verint sees the two decisions in its favor as victories. "We obviously consider this a very positive progression here in this collection of litigation," says Nancy Treaster, senior vice president and general manager of the Verint Witness Actionable Solutions business line. "We have the majority of the patent issues behind us, and hopefully we can move forward."

That might not be so easy. In several statements, NICE says it will appeal the two verdicts already handed down and will stay on the offensive. "We believe that Verint’s patents asserted against NICE are invalid, and we intend to continue seeking invalidation of these patents," said Shlomo Shamir, NICE’s president.

Also in mid-June, several other cases were settled without going to trial. AT&T and Apple reached an agreement with Klausner Technologies regarding patents related to the visual voicemail feature on Apple’s iPhone, of which AT&T is the exclusive U.S. carrier. Apple and AT&T agreed to license the technology from Klausner, which reached a similar settlement with VoIP provider Skype in May. Klausner still has litigation pending against several other defendants, including triple-play services provider Comcast.

In the same week that AT&T and Apple made their announcement, Premiere Global Services (PGS), a provider of on-demand,
communications-based business process improvement solutions, and Ronald A. Katz Technology Licensing settled their patent litigation. As part of the settlement, PGS will license Katz’s group conferencing and customer-service solutions.

Also that week, Nuance Communications filed suit in a U.S. district court in Texas against vlingo, claiming that the company infringes on a Nuance patent (Number 6,766,295) covering a technique for adapting a speech recognition system to specific users or groups. Nuance seeks monetary damages and an injunction to prevent vlingo from using the technology.

In an official statement, vlingo CEO Dave Grannan called Nuance’s claims "unfounded," adding that the patent in question "does not apply to vlingo-developed technology nor the third-party licenses we employ." Grannan also said his company "intends to fight the lawsuit aggressively to its conclusion."

Still, Nuance has no plans of backing down. In a statement, Nuance vice president and general counsel Jo-Anne Sinclair said her company "has invested significant resources in developing technologies, building solutions, and acquiring intellectual property. We take great pride in and place significant value on our patents and will aggressively protect our intellectual property rights through all available means."

That’s a sentiment shared by most companies in the speech technology space. Ryan Hollenbeck, senior vice president of marketing at Verint, says his company is not actively looking for companies infringing on its patents, but that the increasingly competitive space naturally breeds cases like this.

Verint’s Treaster agrees, noting that companies will have to aggressively defend their patents, even if it means going to court. "Protecting your [property] is definitely a strategic part of any growing company," she says. "We have to protect ourselves through the patent process."    

Additional reporting by Christopher Musico of CRM magazine.

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