Microsoft in $US45 million voice recognition deal

Microsoft is putting its money where its mouth is in a bid to increase the voice-recognition capabilities of Windows by investing US$45 million into Belgian company Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products. Under the terms of the alliance, Microsoft will purchase $45 million of Lernout & Hauspie common stock to take a minority stake in the speech recognition technology company. Together, the two companies will work together to develop voice-enabled computing technologies in multiple languages for the Windows platform, officials say.

Microsoft is putting its money where its mouth is in a bid to increase the voice-recognition capabilities of Windows by investing $US45 million into Belgian company Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products.

Under the terms of the alliance, Microsoft will purchase $45 million of Lernout & Hauspie common stock to take a minority stake in the speech recognition technology company. Together, the two companies will work together to develop voice-enabled computing technologies in multiple languages for the Windows platform, officials say.

The companies have agreed to share technologies in order to cooperate more closely, but did not announce any specific product plans. Microsoft has long had the goal of allowing the Windows operating system to respond to spoken words so that users can interact more directly with their PCs, officials say.

More specifically, Lernout & Hauspie will develop applications for current and future versions of Microsoft's speech application programming interface (SAPI). Microsoft will work with Lernout & Hauspie to build upon its existing speech technology being developed by Microsoft Research. The technology will be used for applications which are more advanced than current voice-recognition dictation products, officials say.

At the beginning of this year, the two companies announced a cross-licensing agreement to develop speech recognition products for Windows. The first fruit of that alliance is a voice-controlled software editor for Microsoft Word which Lernout & Hauspie will release in October.

In addition to working directly with Microsoft, Lernout & Hauspie will also continue to develop speech-recognition technologies in multiple languages targeting sectors such as healthcare and legal practices, and will build speech technologies into hardware devices.

The two companies also plan to form a European joint-venture company to collect and analyze speech and linguistic data for use in the development of future speech recognition products, officials said.

In related news, Microsoft also announced that Bernard Vergnes, chairman of Microsoft Europe, will join Lernout & Hauspie's board of directors. In addition, Microsoft said it will invest $3 million in the Flanders Language Valley Fund CVA (FLV), a Belgium-based international technology center dedicated to helping companies develop speech-based technologies and applications.

Lernout & Hauspie can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.lhs.com/. More information on Microsoft's speech API can be found at http://www.research.microsoft.com/stg/main.txt./

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