Court orders Amazon to pay $46.7 million over Alexa patent infringements

A Delaware federal court has ruled that Amazon should pay $46.7 million to Nuance Communications-owned VB Assets over violating the rights of four patents used in Amazon’s Echo smart speakers and Alexa. VB Assets says it had a meeting with Amazon in 2017 to discuss the patent rights.

VB Assets, previously known as VoiceBox Technologies, filed its lawsuit in 2019. The company then claimed it held the rights to a circular speaker that can connect to the web and answer questions with a female voice. This is similar to Amazon’s Echo speakers and Alexa voice assistant. VB Assets claims it had developed the prototypes of such a product long before Amazon announced its products.

VB Assets’ prototype, dubbed “Cybermind,” already appeared in a YouTube video. In that video, someone asks a speaker, “Computer, what is the NBA schedule?” and “Computer, what is the forecast for Sunday?”. Other prompts such as “Computer, find me a good recipe for chocolate cheesecake.” are also asked from the alleged speaker. The speaker then answers the questions by finding responses on the Internet.

As per the lawsuit, VoiceBox has developed a voice assistant for Lexus cars called Alexus “that showcased the power of its conversational Voice technology.” The company now argues the Alexus concept was made public over six months before Amazon introduced its Alexa voice assistant. Additionally, VoiceBox’s founders reportedly started to add natural language processing to computer applications in 2001.

The lawsuit further adds that the VoiceBox team met with Amazon in 2011 “to explore a potential business relationship where VoiceBox Technologies would provide core [natural language understanding] services to Amazon.” Echo speakers and Alexa were launched in 2014.

The Delaware federal court ordered Amazon to pay the compensation through running royalty rather than a lump sum. While VoiceBox had previously accused Amazon of infringing six patents, the court found the retailer guilty of infringing only four patents. Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment, but it still has time to appeal the ruling. VoiceBox can also seek reimbursement for related costs.

This is not the first time Amazon has been sued for patent infringement. In 2019, Amazon was ordered to pay $1.5 billion to Uniloc, a patent licensing company, for infringing on patents related to ebook technology. Amazon has also been sued for patent infringement by Apple, Microsoft, and Google.

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