A Delaware federal court has ruled in favor of VB Assets, formerly VoiceBox Technologies, ordering Amazon to pay $46.7 million for infringing on four patents related to the Echo smart speakers and Alexa virtual assistant. The lawsuit, initiated by Nuance Communications-owned VB Assets, alleged that Amazon's devices violated patents covering network-coordinated conversational services, conversational voice user interface, and associating advertisements with voice-based input. The judgment, delivered as a running royalty, gives Amazon the option to appeal, and VB Assets has the opportunity to seek reimbursement for associated costs.
- Patent Infringement Claims:
- VB Assets, previously known as VoiceBox Technologies, claimed to have invented a circular speaker connected to the web with voice-dictated prompts and a female robotic voice, similar to Amazon's Echo and Alexa.
- The lawsuit accused Amazon of infringing on six patents, and a jury verdict found Amazon in violation of four patents related to conversational services, voice user interface, and linking advertisements to voice-based input.
- Judgment and Running Royalty:
- The court ordered Amazon to pay $46.7 million as a running royalty, implying ongoing payments rather than a lump sum.
- This ruling follows a 2021 decision that found Alexa did not infringe on patents by IPA Technologies Inc.
- Background and Prototype:
- VoiceBox claimed to have developed a prototype, "Cybermind," demonstrating similar features to Echo and Alexa before Amazon's products were announced.
- A video linked in the lawsuit purportedly showed a news report about VoiceBox's prototype, dating back to 2006, showcasing voice-activated prompts and responses.
- Timeline and Allegations:
- VoiceBox alleged that its founders began working on natural language understanding for computer applications in 2001.
- Meetings between VoiceBox and Amazon in 2011 and 2017 were cited, claiming Amazon explored potential business relationships before introducing Echo and Alexa.
- Potential Impact and Amazon's Voice Assistant Challenges:
- While the financial impact is modest relative to Amazon's overall revenue, the ruling adds uncertainty at a challenging time for Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa.
- Reports indicate that Alexa was expected to generate losses for Amazon in 2022, prompting efforts to increase revenue and the exploration of a subscription model for advanced features.
The court's decision ordering Amazon to pay $46.7 million for patent infringement related to Echo and Alexa marks a legal setback for the tech giant. As the voice assistant landscape evolves, this ruling adds to the challenges facing Amazon's Alexa, which has faced financial pressures and a changing leadership landscape.
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