Hey Siri/Google/Alexa! - Help me manage these patent infringement allegations

January 23 2019: A patent owner by the name of Speakware is presently sueing Apple, Samsung and Microsoft for the infringement of their patent US6397186, filed in December 1999 for a Hands-free, voice-operated remote control transmitter. - or in other words, a control system that can recognise a voice command, and convert this voice command and “automatically transmit one or more appliance control signals to said one or more appliances’.

This 1999 patent even included a drawing of a physical housing for such a device, which comes complete with a microphone, speaker and control buttons., along with a range of wireless links: Alternatively, the system may utilize other wireless links, other than infrared or in addition thereto, such as RF, ultrasonic and optical links.

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Ambercite will leave the judgement of whether this patent is being infringed to others, but I note that a number of companies are releasing voice based control systems for various appliances, and even some cars now have some functions controlled by voice signals.

When looking at a patent such as this, I am always curious:

1) Is is truly patentable? In other words, is there new and cited prior art that may invalidate some or all of these claims?
2) Who else has filed similar inventions after this?

Luckily, using Ambercite, both questions are easy to investigate.

Question 1): Is there uncited prior art that may invalidate this patent?

Ambercite has as invalidation search mode. In this case, we have entered US6,397,186 into our search box, and ran a search for similar patents.

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Such a search will return ‘known‘ citations (previously cite) and unknown citations, which have not been previously cited. In this case, we might filter the results to unknown citations only

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The results are found via this interactive link here, and include in, fourth and fifth position, these two patents:

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Both patents refer to the control of devices (i.e appliances) via voice controls. Both were filed prior to the Speakware patent, and the second patent was published before the priority date of the Speakware patent.

But these are just examples of what came up. In fact, we can request up to 1000 or more prior art patents using this approach, which if I was a patent lawyer for any of the defendants in this issue, is certainly what I would do, and then review these patents to see if they contain the specific disclosures they are looking for.

So that is the first question answered - is there new and uncited prior art worth considering? I think there is, and the two patents shown are only some of what we found.

And now for the second question:

Question 2): Who else has filed similar inventions after this?

To answer this question, we use Ambercite in its ‘Licensing’ mode, looking for the most similar 1000 patents filed after the priority date of the Speakware patent:

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This produced, as we request. a list of 1000 results.

Normally, this is sufficient a process to look for similar and later patents. However a preliminary review of the patents found suggest that many are more related to speech recognition rather than speech control. For this reason, we might add a keyword filter to the ‘Title and Abstract’ field.


Also, when running Ambercite searches, it is sometimes helpful to filter out results below a minimum value of similarity - in this case we will use 1 as the minimum value of similarity:

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These two filters will limit the results to 347 results, with the full list of results found here, again in a fully interactive weblink of results.

Top of this list of results is US7418392, System and method for controlling the operation of a device by voice commands. #2 on this is US9262612, filed by Apple for Device access using voice authentication, which discloses can include instructions for performing voice authentication on a per application or per feature basis and for allowing a user to configure authentication requirements of each application or feature available on device 100. OL in this case, the other applications are on the same device, but this pretty close. Moreover, #4 of the list, also filed by Apple, is US9858925B2, Using context information to facilitate processing of commands in a virtual assistant, which discusses “Consumer Appliances with I/O and sensors, for which the client may be implemented as an embedded application on the appliance”.

Another way of looking at this list of 347 results is to export them to a spreadsheet, and combine the “Licensing Potential” for the different patent owners (advanced Excel users - this is easily done using pivot tables). This will lead to the following graph:

Speakware patent licensing potential.gif

There should not be too many surprises on this list, apart from the the presence of Lear Corp. But in fact, Lear have filed a number of patents home automation, including US7039397 User-assisted programmable appliance control, which discusses “Speech recognizer 504 is interfaced to bus 492 allowing microphone 482 to provide input for control logic 130.

Hey Siri/Google/Alexa! - can help me avoid these patent infringement allegations?

At this point in time, the capacity for Siri/Google/Alexa and others to provide patent invalidation searching upon request is lacking.

However, this Ambercite approach shows just how automated prior art searching can be - a patent number itself can be enough to run a patent searching, plus some knowledge about patents. And the good thing about Ambercite, is that can anyone can have access to this technology - check out out the free trials available here.

Mike Lloyd