Apple is being sued for allegedly infringing on a patent filed in 2001 by two professors from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological university in the US. A company by the name of Dynamic Advances, who is now the exclusive licensee of this patent, is the one suing Apple. According to the company, Apple's Siri personal assistant software is clearly infringing upon their patent. Is this case initiated by Dynamic Advances LLC just another greedy Patent troll grab-for-cash, or is it about Dynamic Advances being an IP Defender for the two professors? You be the judge. Update October 25, 2012
Rensselaer was founded in 1824. It is the oldest technological university in the United States. Driven by its talented faculty, Rensselaer has dramatically expanded its research enterprise by focusing on five signature research areas: biotechnology; computation and information technology; experimental media and the arts; energy and the environment; and nanotechnology. Rensselaer is especially well-known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.
For the last decade, the "Rensselaer Plan" has provided a blueprint for transformation and impact. It has guided development of an exceptional environment for advancing research with the potential to address science and society's most challenging problems. Based on this strong foundation, Rensselaer's research has led to dramatic innovations in a host of technology areas. As one illustration of the success of Rensselaer's research and innovation, the United States Patent & Trademark Office has issued 296 patents to Rensselaer.
Dynamic Advances is the exclusive licensee to the '798 Patent. As such, Rensselaer has transferred all substantial rights to the '798 Patent to Dynamic Advances, including the exclusive right to sue for infringement and recover damages for all past, present, and future infringement.
Dr. Cheng Hsu and Dr. Veera Boonjing invented the technology claimed in the '798 Patent. At the time they invented the claimed technology, Dr. Hsu was a Professor of Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems at Rensselaer and Dr. Boonjing was a doctoral candidate at Rensselaer. Dr. Hsu currently is a professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer. Dr. Boonjing is currently a professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in Thailand. In addition to being awarded the '798 Patent for their joint invention, Dr. Hsu and Dr. Boonjing have co-authored a number of articles on natural language processing technology.
The '798 Patent discloses and claims novel methods for processing a natural-language input. One advantage of this technology is that it provides computer/smartphone users the ability to input search queries or commands in language they would use in conversation with another person. The '798 Patent's process can interpret a query articulated in plain natural language, such as would be used in common speech, by, for example, creating permutations of the concepts of the query, and interpreting the query accordingly.
The '798 Patent has been repeatedly cited in subsequent patent applications filed by leading technology companies. A leading patent analytics service found that the '798 Patent has been cited more than 93.5% of issued United States patents. The '798 Patent, or its published application, has been cited in patent applications filed by Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, IBM, Sony, Google, and Apple. In fact, Apple has cited the '798 Patent during the prosecution of no fewer than three patent applications:
Published Application No. 2009/0225041, filed March 4, 2008 (issued as U.S. Patent 8,289,283);
Published Application No. 2012/0016678, filed January 10, 2011; and
Published Application No. 2012/0265533, filed April 18, 2011.
By way of example only, claim 9 of the '798 Patent recites: A computer-implemented method for processing a natural language input comprising: receiving a natural language input; providing from said natural language input a plurality of language-based database objects; identifying a finite number of permutations of the plurality of database objects, the database objects being stored in a metadata database comprising at least one of a group of information comprising case information, keywords, information models, and database values; and interpreting at least one of the permutations to provide determination of a result of the natural language input.
Product(s) that Allegedly Infringe on the '798 Patent
According to Dynamic Advances, Apple's Siri personal assistant, available for select iPhones, iPads, and iPods, includes technology claimed in the '798 Patent.
As described by Apple, "Siri isn't like traditional voice recognition software that requires you to remember keywords and speak specific commands. Siri understands your natural speech, and it asks you questions if it needs more information to complete a task." Based on the natural language query to Siri, it will "find a business and get directions, schedule reminders and meetings, search the web, and more."
In patent litigation against Samsung, Apple touted that Siri has driven consumer demand for the iPhone—and Apple submitted sworn declarations attesting to this fact. Apple also persuaded the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that Siri drives consumer demand for the iPhone 4S. There is no dispute that this highly popular feature is a significant source of consumer demand for the iPhone 4S.
On information and belief, Apple describes Siri's operation in its published patent application number 2012/0016678, entitled "Intelligent Automated Assistant." The patent application describes how Apple's Intelligent Automated Assistant processes natural language inputs. The Assistant receives the input, provides a plurality of words/phrases based on that input, identifies a finite number of combinations of the words or phrases as candidate syntactic parses, and interprets at least one of the candidates as the representation of user intent. In processing the input, the Assistant refers to and uses database objects such as keywords in its vocabulary database, objects in its personal memory databases, or information in its domain or task databases.
Dynamic Advances is seeking a "reasonable royalty," for Apple's alleged infringement of patent 7,177,798. The case was filed in the New York Northern District Court. The presiding Judge in this case is noted as being Judge Gary L. Sharpe and the referring Judge is Christian F. Hummel.
Update, Oct. 25, 2012: ZDNet reports today that the Judge noted in this case, Gary Sharpe, has stepped down due to having an "interest" in Apple. That's usually a reference to someone holding stock. Clarification on this point wasn't provided for.
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