New Speech Recognition Engine Under the Hood at Vlingo; Startup Dumps IBM and Nuance for AT&T

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the startup’s technology for improving the accuracy of computerized speech recognition over time overlaps with a 2004 Nuance patent.

Then, early in 2009, IBM assigned the rights to most of its speech-recognition asset to Nuance. This put Vlingo in the awkward position of relying on a technology that’s maintained and supported by its main rival—and of paying royalty checks to the same company it’s battling in court.

Vlingo isn’t breaking its three-year contract with IBM, and may actually continue to use the IBM speech recognizer in simple deployments, Grannan says. But by moving its main products to the AT&T technology, “We now have what we think is a much more strategic partner in the space,” he says.

But Grannan says he’s under no illusion that the AT&T deal will make the Nuance lawsuit go away. “Once we migrate everything to AT&T, Nuance can continue to sue us if they want for alleged infringement that happened with the IBM recognizer that they themselves are licensing to us,” he says. “I don’t know exactly how that works in their minds, but I don’t think the legal angle has ever been the primary motivation.”

Meanwhile, Vlingo—which is the first company to license AT&T’s Watson technology for commercial use—will be able to build on the new core engine to do some nifty new stuff, Grannan says. By applying Vlingo’s own language models, “We got great performance out of the IBM recognizer, and it’s going to get even better with Watson,” he says. “And at the feature level, there will be lots of gee-whizzy things that we’ll be able to do quickly because of our low-level access [to Watson], like automatic punctuation in e-mails and text messages.”

Having AT&T’s core engine under the hood, in other words, “will take our industry-leading position up a notch,” Grannan says. He says that Vlingo and AT&T may also explore new markets for the technology, such as voice-recognition systems for cable set-top boxes and automobiles.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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