back to article Startup Mycroft AI declares it will fight 'patent troll' tooth and nail after its Linux voice-assistant attracts lawsuit

An AI startup is battling a patent-infringement lawsuit filed against it for building an open-source Linux-based voice-controlled assistant. Mycroft AI first learned trouble was brewing when it was contacted by a lawyer at Tumey LLP, a Texas law firm focused on intellectual property, in December. In an email to the startup’s …

  1. TrevorH

    Pretty sure that Amazon & Google have a vested interest in this sort of thing.

    Alexa, find me a patent troll

    1. IGotOut
      Unhappy

      "Pretty sure that Amazon & Google have a vested interest"

      Yes they do. Let the troll bankrupt the competition, knowing full well they won't be touched by the law firm.

    2. overunder Silver badge

      I think the patent is expired. Back in the 80's there used to be a bunch of these little RC robots that were voice controlled via a mobile RF remote. You could say forward, backwards*, turn, etc...

      *The robot I had was really looking for backwards, not back. I assume it was listening for the "back" and 's' parts, but I think you can guess how many times it went forward instead of backwards.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth
      WTF?

      Where's Haliburton when you need them?

      Oh damn, they never followed through on their patent application to patent the business process of patent trolling...

      Patent Acquisition and Assertion by a (Non-Inventor) First Party Against a Second Party

  2. steelpillow Silver badge
    Devil

    How mental is Texas?

    Totally different system design from the patented one.

    The only question here is, can Texas field a sane judge?

    Maybe I should patent putting a server in a balloon an flying it into the clouds, then I can sue every cloud service provider out there. :roll: [darn no smiley]

    1. Saruman the White

      Re: How mental is Texas?

      The only question here is, can Texas field a sane judge?

      Do you really need to ask this question?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How mental is Texas?

      Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a strong hint.

    3. Zarno Bronze badge

      Re: How mental is Texas?

      That's the perfect type of smile, the biting kind!

    4. Blackjack

      Re: How mental is Texas?

      I think is time for companies that want to avoid patent trolls to legally exist outside the USA.

  3. jake Silver badge

    Sounds a trifle broad.

    From here, it sounds like Voice Tech claims it owns voice mail and modems, amongst other things that clearly existed long before 2007.

    1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

      Re: Sounds a trifle broad.

      I was using voice dialling back in the 90's that worked with my modem - that software could also take some dictation, albeit not as good as today due to compute limitations. I think his patent is about 20 years too late, although contesting it will cost money.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Sounds a trifle broad.

        Back when I had a TRS-80, late 70's, early 80's, I bought an electronic projects books. One of the projects I built was an audio filter device, high and low level, which produced a relatively unique signal or code for the computer when a word was spoken. It worked well enough that the patent as described in the article would pretty much cover it. If that had been patented at the time, it would be long expired by now anyway,

    2. Anne-Lise Pasch

      Re: Sounds a trifle broad.

      Prior art (Literally):

      https://dilbert.com/strip/1994-04-24

  4. Benchops

    Prior art

    I'm sure Montgomery Scott has demonstrated prior art. Certainly his colleague Nyota Uhura.

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Prior art

      Well the workaround is obvious then. Use the keyboard. How quaint!

    2. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Prior art

      I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Prior art

        "Computer! Computer! Open the pod bay doors"

        "I'm sorry Montgomery, for legal reasons I can't do that"

  5. TVU

    Startup Mycroft AI declares it will fight 'patent troll'

    Patent trolls are nothing more than chancer parasites trying to cynically cash in on the work that other people are doing.

    Joshua Montgomery was right to say that “This is a textbook case of why the US patent system is fundamentally broken”, although some legal jurisdictions, e.g. Nebraska and California (abstract ideas are not patentable), increasingly take a dim view of these parasite operations. I very sincerely hope that Mycroft wins this case.

    1. keithpeter
      Windows

      Re: Startup Mycroft AI declares it will fight 'patent troll'

      Does anyone in the US sometimes worry that this kind of shenanigans might act as a damper on innovation and new ideas?

      I mean, can you imagine if Claude Shannon and Bell Labs had to hack their way though this stuff? Or Johan Von Neumann or any of the other founders?

      Just a thought

      1. MrDamage

        Re: Startup Mycroft AI declares it will fight 'patent troll'

        > Does anyone in the US sometimes worry that this kind of shenanigans might act as a damper on innovation and new ideas?

        Why do you think we've been stuck with Windows for so long?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Startup Mycroft AI declares it will fight 'patent troll'

          Who is "we", Kemosabe?

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Startup Mycroft AI declares it will fight 'patent troll'

        > Does anyone in the US sometimes worry that this kind of shenanigans might act as a damper on innovation and new ideas?

        Yes. And it's not "might" -- it absolutely does. I can't even count the number of times I've encountered people who had fantastic ideas but decided not to pursue them because of the fear of tripping over some bogus patent or another.

  6. Scott Broukell
    Coat

    Voice-assistant

    My computer is just like my wife - it seldom, if ever, responds to a word that I say! Yet, if I push the right buttons, everything runs just fine!

    <mines the one with the relationship workshop leaflet in the pocket>

  7. John Robson Silver badge

    Open Source...

    Can he troll the trolls???

    Shut down, and then a new project can start up, forked from the existing code...

    Set up a third project that just links to whatever your current fork is.

  8. FlossyThePig

    Who's paid then?

    The lawyer offered Mycroft AI a non-exclusive license of Voice Tech’s patents, we're told.

    I'd like to know how many non-exclusive licenses Voice Tech have sold with/without a legal threat.

  9. DCFusor Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Just checked it out, as it would be cool for my LAN of things on my homestead.

    But it's a huge nope - it can't be used standalone on your LAN, it needs to talk to the mothership over the inet to do anything.

    So, just like all the other IoT scams - you wind up utterly dependent on someone else - who might go out of business, decide to charge you rent to use your own stuff, have various security issues that you can't trivially block by just not giving the thing outside access....and so on.

    Open source doesn't have a ton of meaning in this case - it's not open in any meaningful sense though you could read the code - if you have years.

    "C'mon kid, the first one's free"

    1. monty75

      Self-hosted, local server is a work in progress https://github.com/MycroftAI/personal-backend

      1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

        It reads to me as if the personal backend might be abandoned as the official Mycroft Backend has now been made open source, see the blog post at the link above.

        Not clear at all.

  10. SVV Silver badge

    Why haven't the trolls sued Amazon over Alexa then? Or Google?

    Obviously because they know that Amazon has more and better lawyers. And no doubt a portfolio of Alexa patents thicker than a telephone directory. Which they will waste no time in deploying aginst the guy developing this if they want to, but I hope they don't as he sounds like a really decent type of fellow.

    1. John_3_16
      Mushroom

      Re: Why haven't the trolls sued Amazon over Alexa then? Or Google?

      As previously noted, trolls are bullies picking on those who cannot defend themselves. Thus, you DO NOT ATTACK those worth several billion dollars & own their own politicians & have the potential to buy & arm their own black ops security forces. And, yes, own their own international law firms.

      I, too, hope the trolls experience scorched earth via legal means in this matter. Surprised, being a Texas case, that they didn't threaten them with the death penalty. Didn't Texas pass that law so it can be used against non-Texans in civil cases? Hmmm, pretty sure...

      God bless.

  11. gerryg

    SCO contacted said lawyer ...

    ...and reminded them they have Copyright on this sort of lawsuit.

  12. Rol Silver badge

    Come to the UK. We're open for business on very lucrative terms.

    "So if I start my company up in the UK, and perhaps in one of those funky freeports Mr Bumbling Oaf Johnson is muttering about, I'd be immune from patent trolls and Texas lawyers?"

    "Yep"

    "How does that work?"

    "Well the Texas lawyer, troll thingy makes lots of noise about their legal claims, etc, etc, and you tell them to go fuck themselves!"

    "And that's it?"

    "In a nutshell. Yes. You see, for every 25million patents registered in America only one stands a chance of meeting the standards set by the UK patent office"

    "So the UK has really high standards for qualification?"

    "No. Not really, they just have standards"

    "But what happens when I start exporting to America. Surely that would find me hog tied in a Texas court?"

    "The grey market is how you get your products into America. You sell them to a buyer in Mexico, and they sell them on to retailers in America. You and your company are out of the equation"

    "But my Mexican buyer will be in for it then"

    "Seriously? A bunch of spiv lawyers and a patent troll living in a bungalow, are going to risk upsetting the kind of Mexican that you never want to upset?"

    "Are you suggesting I deal with gun wielding Mexican gangs to sell my products in America?"

    "That, or just deal with the Texan problem yourself"

    "Alexa! What's Spanish for can we make a deal?"

    1. trindflo
      Pint

      Re: Come to the UK. We're open for business on very lucrative terms.

      So will you be contributing to BOFH stories? Have a vote and a cold one.

      1. Rol Silver badge

        Re: Come to the UK. We're open for business on very lucrative terms.

        To be honest, it wasn't until I started reading the BOFH stories that I quit the church choir and sold my soul, so I might one day be a pale imitation of him.

        Thanks for the beer. And I know it's a little cheeky, but can I have another one?

        Pleeease...

        1. BenDwire
          Pint

          Re: Come to the UK. We're open for business on very lucrative terms.

          If you really were from the UK, you'd want a warm one. Here's a pint of Blonde Volupta to keep you going ...

    2. Huw D Silver badge

      Re: Come to the UK. We're open for business on very lucrative terms.

      Read the first line as Jules (Samuel L Jackson) and the second as Vincent (Travolta) a la Pulp Fiction. Repeat :D

  13. Thesheep
    Pint

    Meta-patent

    I think I need to take out a new patent. It describes a method of extorting money from a company using a thinly described and vague patent in a court in East Texas.

    Using mobile devices and computers.

    Now, let's see who is abusing my patent...

  14. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Software Patents

    Software Patents should be deleted at the stake.

  15. Deebster

    The trolls backed off

    Mycroft posted an update: https://mycroft.ai/blog/patent-troll-update-1/

    <blockquote>We are pleased to announce that on February 11th the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the case filled in the Eastern District of Texas.

    This is a win. To be more specific we have won the battle, not the war. There are still many ways this could play out. Only time will tell, but rest assured we will keep the community up to date every step of the way.</blockquote>

    1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

      Re: The trolls backed off

      That's not a win - getting the patents de-listed would be the win - they are simply free to try again on the next mug/company that cannot get finance for their case.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: The trolls backed off

        Except that next time they try it, the victims will find (using a quick internet search) about this case. And see that the troll knows they don't stand a chance.

        Will the victim here turn around with a SLAPP claim as Bruce Perens did ? A few SLAPPs and trolls will find their business rather unprofitable.

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