The former employees and investors of VoiceBox Technologies recently filed a lawsuit against e-commerce giant Amazon in a Delaware federal court. The petitioners claim that the tech giant infringed on at least six of its patents related to natural language and speech recognition.
VoiceBox’s patents against Amazon
VoiceBox started in 2001 and ended up gaining several patents during the 17-years of its operations before being acquired by Nuance Communications last year. They have created a new company called VB Assets LLC which manages the patents still owned by the company. According to the lawsuit, VoiceBox initiated talks for a potential business partnership with Amazon in 2011 and held several meetings discussing the patented technology of VoiceBox.
No deals were made between the two companies but “on information and belief, Amazon decided to build its Alexa Products—without telling VoiceBox Technologies or asking permission to use VoiceBox Technologies’ patented technology,” notes the suit. Amazon has been exploring voice technology for several years now. It first launched Alexa and its first-generation Echo speakers in 2014. The suit alleges that both the products were remarkably similar to the patented technology that VoiceBox discussed with Amazon in 2011.
Technology and talent poaching by Amazon
The company also highlights that Amazon poached several of its scientists and engineers, including their chief scientist Philippe Di Cristo. He left the small startup in 2016 to become the “speech and voice technology leader” at Amazon. A year before its acquisition by Nuance, VoiceBox initiated a series of talks with Jeff Bezos to work on a business solution, but the suit doesn’t mention the results of those talks.
A spokesperson from VB Assets declined to comment on the pending litigation. Instead, they evidenced their pioneering work in voice technology, as highlighted in a GeekWire article from 2006. The company was engaged in developing conversational voice technology for homes, mobile devices, and even cars and counted AT&T, Fiat, Samsung, and Toyota as its customers. It had offices in Europe and Asia, and Crunchbase suggests that it raised over $25 million in funding.
Nuance Communications, which now owns VoiceBox, is a speech and imaging technology behemoth that acquired several pioneering startups like Swype, Tweddle, Varolii, and Jott.
Amazon has not commented on the lawsuit yet, but the company is busy creating a suite of products centered on Alexa and their voice-technology. It is already facing stiff competition from Google, which has similar products on the market.