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IBM, ScanSoft pair up for speech software

Though the companies sell competing products, they strike new deals and expand existing ones with the hope of expanding the market for speech technology.

Software maker ScanSoft said it has struck new speech technology deals with IBM and expanded some existing agreements, a move the companies hope will expand the global market for speech technology.

ScanSoft, which makes imaging, speech and language automation software, said it's offering its telephony products to customers of IBM's Websphere for the first time, in a move that will expand the reach of ScanSoft's products. Under the agreement, IBM will help ScanSoft port its VoiceRequest and DirectoryAssistance products to WebSphere, IBM's Java server software suite that businesses use to build and implement custom applications. VoiceRequest lets callers connect to people by saying their name aloud. DirectoryAssistance is a speech-enabled directory assistance service.

ScanSoft also is expanding its RealSpeak TTS licensing deal with IBM. RealSpeak TTS, text-to-speech software that can understand and say aloud 20 languages, is used in applications for telephony servers, PCs and embedded devices. IBM will now offer the software in all 20 available languages.

And third, ScanSoft said it will distribute IBM's ViaVoice desktop dictation products. ScanSoft said the deal would expand its reach into China, Germany, Japan and Latin America, and also add Mac-compatible technology to its product line.

Although IBM and ScanSoft sell speech software products that compete with each other in some markets, they said combining forces would help to expand the overall market for speech software.

"This will allow customers (of) both companies to further extend their use of speech technology," ScanSoft Chairman Paul Ricci said in a statement.

The adoption of speech technology has grown in recent years, but the software is still prone to frustrating and sometimes amusing glitches as it tries to deal with a variety of accents and colloquialisms, as anyone who's dialed into a voice-recognition system can attest.

In separate news, ScanSoft on Thursday said it would buy voice recognition technology maker SpeechWorks International in a stock transaction it said was worth about $132 million.