What does it mean for a virtual assistant or voice user interface to be imbued “with personality,” and what does it take to prove infringement of patents claiming “a voice user interface with personality”? These were the central questions addressed in an April 7, 2020 federal court ruling that handed Womble Bond Dickinson client Nuance Communications, Inc. a complete victory in a patent infringement case that accused Nuance’s Nina Virtual Assistant Platform of infringing three patents. Judge John A. Kronstadt of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California construed “personality” as used in the patents to mean “the totality of spoken language characteristics that simulate the collective, character, behavioral, temperamental, emotional, and mental traits of human beings in a way that would be recognized by psychologists and social scientists as consistent and relevant to a particular personality type.”
In September 2018, a defense team including Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Chris Mammen, Rachael Lamkin of Lamkin IP Defense, and David Greenbaum, Nuance’s Vice President of Litigation and IP, filed Daubert motions to exclude the plaintiff’s technical and damages experts, as well as motions for summary judgment on noninfringement and damages. As Nuance argued, and the Court ruled, plaintiff Eloqui Voice Systems, LLC and its experts impermissibly relied on an infringement theory that was not tied to the court’s construction of “personality” – instead impermissibly relying on users’ hypothetical and subjective anthropomorphic perceptions of the accused virtual assistant to identify “a personality.” The Court rejected Eloqui’s arguments, excluded the testimony of both of Eloqui’s technical experts, and granted summary judgment of noninfringement on all claims. Consequently, the Court declined to consider the other pending motions as moot.
The ruling caps a more than three-year battle with non-practicing entity Eloqui. Asked about the ruling, Nuance counsel Rachael Lamkin stated, "It was an honor to represent Nuance, a company willing to stand up to patent monetizers. This was a solid victory for the good guys and I am thrilled to have been on this strategy-driven team with Chris and David." Mammen added, “This was, indeed, very much a team effort, and we are so pleased to have this resolved for our client. From the start, Rachael was laser-focused on lining up the claim construction, expert, and non-infringement issues to set up this win.”