Amazon to pay $46m in Alexa patent infringement case

Delaware jury orders the tech giant to cough up damages to voice technology company

A Delaware jury has ordered Amazon to pay voice technology company VB Assets $46.7m in damages for wilfully infringing four of its patents through its Alexa product range.

In a unanimous decision on 8 November, the jury at the US District Court for the District of Delaware decided that Amazon had not proven that the claims of the four disputed patents were invalid for lack of adequate written description or obviousness in light of the prior art. The jury further disagreed with Amazon finding that the four claims were patent eligible.

VB Assets is a new company set up to represent the patents of a company called VoiceBox Technologies, which was acquired in 2018 by Nuance Communications. VoiceBox was an early leader in developing speech language recognition technologies and supplied its technology to big names like Toyota and Chrysler. For its part VB Assets was formed by former employees and former investors of the earlier company who still own the patents in dispute.

In the lawsuit filed in 2019, it details how the two companies initially explored whether they could work together, when Amazon learned about VoiceBox technology. VoiceBox then accused Amazon of using its “pioneering voiced based technologies” in Amazon’s Alexa’s products without telling VoiceBox or asking permission to use VoiceBox’s patented technology.

VoiceBox said Amazon’s Alexa and first generation Echo product, launched in 2014, were “strikingly similar” to the patent technology that VoiceBox showed Amazon in 2011.

In the lawsuit it also accuses Amazon of poaching many of its employees. 

Furthermore, it says that Amazon’s infringement of the patents continues to be “knowing, intentional and wilful”.

Commenting on the jury verdict, Michelman & Robinson partner Ashley Moore, said that what stands out about this case are the “patent eligibility issues under section 101. This is one of only a few cases we can look to for guidance on jury instructions, verdict form language, and impactful testimony that helped the jury reach its 101 findings. Ultimately, the jury found the claims to be patent eligible, so it will be interesting to see how this case fares at the Federal Circuit.”

This is the latest blow for the tech giant, who last month was hit by lawsuits filed by Nokia in the US, Germany, India, the UK, and the European Unified Patent Court for allegedly infringing Nokia’s patents in video-related technologies.

Nokia said in a statement on its website that Amazon Prime Video and Amazon’s streaming devices infringe a mix of its multimedia patents covering multiple technologies including video compression, content delivery, content recommendation and aspects related to hardware.

Separately, Nokia has also filed cases in the US against HP for the unauthorised use of its patented video-related technologies in their devices.

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