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Small Firm Takes on Apple, Google, Over Voice Patent

Apple, Google, Microsoft and all major smartphone vendors were slapped with a lawsuit Wednesday by Potter Voice Technologies, an obscure Colorado company that claims they are infringing its patent on natural-language voice control of a computer.

Potter sued the 15 vendors and their affiliated companies in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The suit revolves around Apple's Siri app and Google Voice Commands, as well as a technology called Windows Speech Commands. It cites a single U.S. patent, number 5,729,659, which was issued to Jerry L. Potter in 1998.

Other companies named in the suit include Nokia, Research In Motion, Samsung Electronics, Sony, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility, ZTE, Huawei Technologies, Kyocera, Sharp and Pantech.

Patent litigation among mobile device makers has become fast and furious in recent years as the lucrative mobile market has grown quickly. Potter's suit is notable for its broad range of targets and the fact that it comes from a largely unknown company. Potter Voice lists an address in Brighton, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.

Potter is seeking damages to be determined at trial, "but in no event less than a reasonable royalty" against all the companies named, according to the complaint filed Wednesday. It is also seeking injunctions against the companies and attorney's fees.

But the company is taking special aim at Apple, Microsoft and Sony, which it claims must have known about the patent and therefore are guilty of willful infringement. Potter says the patent was cited in a 2004 case involving SRI International, which developed Siri. Apple acquired Siri from SRI, a Silicon Valley research and development company. Willful infringement allows for increased damages.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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