Venture Beat recently reported that Google has acquired two speech technology patents from SR Tech Group LLC. A press release from SR Tech Group LLC identified the patents as U.S. Patent No. 7,742,922, titled “Speech interface for search engines” and U.S. Patent No. 8,056,070, titled “System and method for modifying and updating a speech recognition program.”
The filing date for the first patent was November 9, 2006. Reading the abstract of the technology covered by the patent, it sounds like a very generic description of a voice-activated search. The user says what he/she wants to look up, the application uses speech recognition and natural language processing to determine how best to construct the search query, and the application runs the query and returns the result. The second patent describes a system that a user or system administrator can employ to makes updates to the grammar (as in underlying language database) of a speech recognition program.
I’m not a patent attorney, but based on the generic flavor of both of these patents, it seems like Google may have acquired them as a defensive maneuver. Having these broad reaching patents could give them ammunition against other companies that might want to declare future patent infringements in other technology areas. It’s not readily apparent that either patent offers breakthroughs that wold drastically improve Google Now or Google’s recently demonstrated conversational search functionality for Chrome. It’ll certainly be interesting to observe how Google continues to build out speech activated search and how other companies look to compete within the same arena. There seems little doubt that conversational search will play an important role in search, and in virtual agent technologies of the near future.