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Tech Giants Dodge Voice-Command Patent War

DENVER (CN) - After many battles, a small Colorado company lost its war against tech giants Google, Apple, Samsung, Sony and others, with a federal judge dismissing patent claims regarding voice-command technology.

Potter Voice Technologies claimed Apple, Motorola, Google, Samsung, Sony, Research in Motion and others violated its patent on a "Method and Apparatus for Controlling a Digital Computer Using Oral Input." A victory would have given Potter Voice royalties every time someone used Google Voice, Apple's Siri or Windows Speech commands.

Potter Voice won some of the battles. In its case against Apple - which was moved to federal court in San Francisco, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken found early on that Potter Voice had shown "more than a sheer possibility that Apple was aware of the asserted patent" since the inventors of the patent went to work for Apple, and that Apple willfully used this patent-protected knowledge and information.

The first mortal wound occurred later, when Wilken found that because Potter's patent is directed to an abstract idea, it would need to have an inventive concept in order to be valid - and it did not.

Potter dropped the California case and took its fight against Google to Colorado, where U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn ruled on Sept. 28 that the California decision was binding in Colorado and therefore most of the claims of the voice-command patent unenforceable.

And while the California court did not invalidate some of the patent's claims because they "may involve an inventive concept of content determination," Blackburn issued the death knell for the voice-command patent, finding it invalid based on a technical definition.

Initially, Blackburn had ruled on construction of certain patent terms, then appointed a master to determine whether any revisions should be made.

The master suggested "a very small modification to the court's definition of the recited function" in the "search means" limitation, which Blackburn adopted over the objections of Potter Voice. The master also recommended a further modification of the claim construction order "to find that there is insufficient structure for the search means of claim 22.

Blackburn ruled that the claims left alive by the California court are indefinite and invalid because they didn't sufficiently define a structure linked to the device's search function.

Potter Voice was represented by Christopher Banys, Jennifer Lu Gilbert, Richard Cheng-Hong Lin of Banys in Palo Alto, California. In an email, Banys said, "We feel very strongly about this case, where a Colorado University professor came up with an amazing new voice control system for electronics only to see his inventions taken by some of the wealthiest companies on Earth, all without paying him a dime. We disagree with the order and plan to vigorously appeal."

Google was represented by Ty Cheung Gee of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman in Denver, who did not return email requests for comment by press time.

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