Apple Sued for Patent Infringement Related to Natural Language Voice Technology

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A suit was filed on Thursday against Apple for alleged infringement of three patents related to natural language voice and audio query systems, a technology similar to that of the company’s Siri virtual assistant by the non-practicing entity, Portal Communications.

Portal, in its filing with the patent-holder-friendly Eastern Texas District Court, leverages three related patents invented by Dave Bernard, CEO of technology solutions firm, The Intellection Group. U.S. Patent Nos. 7,376,645, 7,873,654, and 8,150,872, all titled “Multimodal natural language query system and architecture for processing voice and proximity-based queries,” were transferred from The Intellection Group, Inc. to Portal Communications this January.

Since the continuation of the ‘645 patent, the ‘654 IP tacks on server-related features like speech conversion modules, and the ‘872 patent itself is a continuation-in-part of both preceding patents, adding an accurate algorithm for ranking responses of a database lookup.

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No matter if they are voice or text, each patent deals with methods of parsing user queries from natural language patterns into machine decipherable commands. Thus the IP details methods of further processing requests using GPS location data, or other proximity information, to provide a context and environment for narrowing down the response.

Apple purchased Siri in 2010 when the software was available as a mobile assistant for iPhone. Initially based on Nuance voice recognition and natural language processing technology, Siri advertised its conversational attributes as one of the app’s main draws.

After this Siri got integrated into its hardware lineup with iPhone 4S in 2011, some three years after the ‘645 patent was granted; later, building on Siri’s foundation, the company expanded the voice assistant’s capabilities to more important and elaborate things like- covering device operations and later installed the feature on other platforms including iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and, most recently, HomePod.

But Portal alleges Siri has infringed on each of the patents-in-suit, as the voice assistant is capable of understanding or making an attempt to understand natural language queries. Apple’s virtual assistant technology is implemented in part on the device, as seen with features like “Hey Siri” and other onboard assets, though a bulk of Siri processing takes place on off-site servers.

In its most recent iteration, Siri is powered by Apple’s in-house engines, which draw on artificial intelligence and deep neural networks to complete tasks. Basically, Portal has targeted all iPhone and iPad models, a slew of Macs dating back to 2009, iPod touch, Apple Watch Series 3, the fourth-generation Apple TV, Apple TV 4K, and HomePod.

But with the devices not compatible with Siri, including iPhones older than the 4S and iPads older than the third-generation model, the suit targets devices running iOS 3.1 or later but does not specify what programs or technologies are in infringement. Siri debuted with iOS 5.

A complaint similar to Portal’s suit was lodged last year by Word to Info, a one-man firm that began targeting major tech companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Nuance over alleged infringement of natural language processing IP. Now in its suit, Portal seeks damages for infringement with interest, a trebling of damages, court expenses, and a preliminary or permanent injunction against products found to infringe on the patents-in-suit.

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