Over the years I’ve heard of a few different companies that have done variations on what Spinvox appears to be doing: using a combination of both speech recognition and cheap offshore labor to convert audio voicemail messages into text. But, Mark alerts us that Spinvox is trying to patent the process of using humans to transcribe messages (you can see the patent application here). It seems pretty ridiculous that the concept of transcribing a voicemail message could get a patent — and one hopes that such a patent no longer has any chance under the current Bilski rules, but you never know. It’s quite telling, though, how the company responds when asked about the patent:
“Generic patents help us build different combinations — i.e.: Humans interacting with machines — to prevent any other companies doing similar things in the long term.”
In other words, they’re blatantly admitting it’s got nothing at all to do with actually innovating, but getting enough of a patent thicket to have different combinations that prevent anyone else from doing things.
Separately, it’s a bit odd, but mixed in at the end of the BBC article is a small highlight of one potential problem with using humans to transcribe voicemails: some of the Pakistani transcribers apparently haven’t been paid by Spinvox, and attached a message to one of the transcriptions, telling the recipient of their plight and asking for help.