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How the Inventors of Dragon Speech Recognition Technology Lost Everything 606

First time accepted submitter cjsm writes "James and Janet Baker were the inventors of Dragon Systems' speech recognition software, and after years of work, they created a multimillion dollar company. At the height of the tech boom, with investment offers rolling in, they turned to Goldman Sachs for financial advice. For a five million dollar fee, Goldman hooked them up with Lernout & Hauspie, the Belgium speech recognition company. After consultations with Goldman Sachs, the Bakers traded their company for $580 million in Lernout & Hauspie stock. But it turned out Lernout & Hauspie was involved in cooking their books and went bankrupt. Dragon was sold in a bankruptcy auction to Scansoft, and the Bakers lost everything. Goldman and Sachs itself had decided against investing in Lernout & Hauspie two years previous to this because they were lying about their Asian sales. The Bakers are suing for one billion dollars."
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How the Inventors of Dragon Speech Recognition Technology Lost Everything

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  • Ironic (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @03:59PM (#40657621)

    I thought Goldman Sachs were the good guys?

    • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Informative)

      by fizzer06 ( 1500649 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:06PM (#40657689)
      They are NOT.
      • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Sunday July 15, 2012 @05:33PM (#40658297) Journal
        The sad part is they won't win, and GS will NEVER go away. look at their history, they've been knee deep in dirty dealing for over a century now and have learned how to slime their way through the halls of power. its no coincidence that so many in the Fed are tied into GS, hell they are practically Wolfram and Hart on the evil scale. If they had demons in suits waltzing through their halls like on Angel frankly i wouldn't be surprised, any truly nasty corporate dealing that has made a lot of money while fucking people over? GS is there.
    • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by griffo ( 220478 ) <> on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:14PM (#40657743)

      No, they are actually te baddest of te bad. Responsible for Euro crisis, credit crisis, mortgage crisis et al. Too smart and too greedy. It's high time Goldman Sachs and former associates are made to PAY BACK what they STOLE!

      • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:44PM (#40657985)

        They should have been left to die, rather than bailed-out. (i.e. Vote no on TARP rather than help GS.)

        • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Undead Waffle ( 1447615 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @05:11PM (#40658161)
          The funny part is that originally the investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Bear Sterns) were not part of the FDIC and thus could not receive money from the Federal Reserve because they were not real banks. They had to be re-classified as normal banks to make it legal to give them money. But that wasn't a problem because The Secretary of the Treasury at the time was a former CEO of Goldman Sachs [].
          • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @06:37PM (#40658717)

            You fail to mention the current Secretary of the Treasury was deeply involved [] in those decisions.

        • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Informative)

          by desertfool ( 21262 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @06:13PM (#40658567) Homepage

          Remember that GS was on the smart side of the mortgage trade... even though they were copying what another trader was doing. They knew that the mortgage mess was going to blow up. They sold sh*t funds of mortgages while betting against them. Read William Cohen's "Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs came to rule the world." for more info.

          AIG were idiots for selling insurance on investments that the had no business in. GS bought boatloads of insurance against default of investments they didn't have. That is nothing more than gambling and should be taxed as such.

      • by F69631 ( 2421974 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:51PM (#40658039)

        I lean left on local standards (those of European social democracy) so I'd probably be something like "extreme left" on American standards (if we consider Democrats a left-wing party). I have no love for either Goldman Sachs or the whole sector they operate in... that said, you can hardly call what they did "stealing".

        Are they unethical? Sure. Have they broken some laws by deceiving regulators? Probably. Misleading advertising? Might be. Fraud? Depends on the contracts they've used... but stealing? No. They've simply not cared about the fate of their clients - or the society - except where they had the economic incentive to do so. That kind of stuff happens when you have free markets.

        For any given amount of freedom in the markets, you get some good and some bad sides. You thus choose a level where the good sides outweigh the bad ones... and acknowledge that the decision also leads to some undesired results. What doesn't work is choosing one level, at first ignoring undesired results and then, when they become too apparent, call them stealing, etc. without making an argument for choosing another level of freedom in general.

        • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @05:07PM (#40658125)

          They stole money from the taxpayer's treasury. To the tune of $100 per U.S. home.

        • by dark12222000 ( 1076451 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @05:24PM (#40658245)
          Actually, per US law, they have stolen money. They intentionally lead their client who was acting in good faith into a business deal which Goldman-Sachs could reasonably believe would go very badly, and without warning them - and they accepted money for this.

          That *does* count as theft in the US.
          • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @05:54PM (#40658445) Homepage

            Under American law fraud and theft are different. You describe fraud, and perhaps conspiracy, not theft.

        • by decora ( 1710862 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @05:31PM (#40658283) Journal

          im a little confused as to what you would actually consider 'stealing'.

          my favorite definition is from Jennifer Aniston's character in Office Space.

          you take something thats not yours. and then it becomes yours.

        • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @08:06PM (#40659177) Homepage

          That kind of stuff happens when you have free markets.

          When you have "free markets" Goldman Sachs doesn't get bailed out. You can't have it both ways - blame the free market when cronyism is the real culprit.

    • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Funny)

      by jo42 ( 227475 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:15PM (#40657759) Homepage

      Since when has Wall Street (Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, AIG, et al) done anything other than for themselves?

      They take the little guys money and bend them over (without a tube of Vaseline).

    • Re:Ironic (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:32PM (#40657887) Homepage

      I thought Goldman Sachs were the good guys?

      They are! That's why the Hope & Change President decided to put change on hold and continue the long-standing tradition of stuffing the White House with Goldman alums and associates [] and sending administration people back [].

  • One! (Score:5, Funny)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @03:59PM (#40657627) Journal
    billions! It's so much money even the singular takes an "s"!
  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @03:59PM (#40657631)

    Did Goldman Sachs employees engage in some kind of fraud?

    I would give my two left lugnuts to see white-collar crime like this vigorously prosecuted.

    • Re:Why civil? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by shine ( 1502 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:06PM (#40657687)

      Fraud is GS middle name. They will bet for you and bet against you out of both sides of their wallet.

    • Re:Why civil? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by purpledinoz ( 573045 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:16PM (#40657767)
      All big banks are engaged in fraud. Google "LIBOR scandal".
    • Re:Why civil? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:27PM (#40657847)

      Did Goldman Sachs employees engage in some kind of fraud?

      It is possible that they did. It all depends on what the contract says. If, in addition to finding a buyer, they also promised to do due diligence [], and they gave a different conclusion from the one reached internally, then that could be considered fraud. Since GS was paid $5M, they certainly had the resources to be thorough, so "we forgot about that" probably won't be considered a valid excuse.

    • by ynp7 ( 1786468 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:33PM (#40657899)

      Isn't the burden of having all that money and the guilt over how it was acquired really punishment enough?

  • Fixed link (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:01PM (#40657655)
  • Two lessons here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:03PM (#40657667)

    Lesson 1: Just because you paid someone 5 million dollars doesn't mean they have your best interests at heart.
    Lesson 2: If a deal involves putting all your eggs in one basket, you should assume that the basket is faulty, and that everyone knows it but you.

    • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:25PM (#40657835)

      Lesson 2: If a deal involves putting all your eggs in one basket, you should assume that the basket is faulty, and that everyone knows it but you.

      Lesson 3: If you're a first time entrepreneur, and you've managed to become successful and now want to maintain that by going to reputable industry leaders for advice and support, you're gonna get raped. They don't want more successful people; it cuts into the profit margin of those who already are.

    • by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:32PM (#40657891)
      Lesson 4: Cash is king. That paper shit they pass around on wall street has nebulous value. If someone wants to give you millions of dollars for your company, let them give you millions of actual dollars.

      OTOH, from the short summary it sounds like they may have a case.
      • Re:Two lessons here (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:54PM (#40658061)

        >>> That paper shit they pass around on wall street has nebulous value. If someone wants to give you millions of dollars for your company, let them give you millions of actual dollars.

        Dollars are paper too. In fact the paper dollar has lost 97% of its value since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913... most of it just since 1972. Contrast that with the 1800s when the paper dollar lost just 2% of its value (because it was tied to gold & silver... real goods that can't be run off a printing press.)

        • Re:Two lessons here (Score:4, Informative)

          by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @06:09PM (#40658535) Homepage

          Dollars are paper, but their value is not nebulous. If Company A that you know nothing about gives you $10, it has the same value as if Company B gives you $10. Now, if they each give you "$10 worth" of their stock, that value is nebulous.

          If you still don't understand, simply work out for yourself, if they had been paid in dollars where they be now and would we be reading about this lawsuit?

        • Re:Two lessons here (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jpapon ( 1877296 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @08:34PM (#40659347) Journal
          Man, you gold-standard people piss me off.

          If you want gold so badly, just buy goddamn gold already, and stop bothering the rest of us who understand that there is way too much money circulating (or way too little gold) to move away from fiat money. There's absolutely no reason to back things with gold. If you're so set on a fixed amount of currency, just argue for a fixed amount of currency. There's no need to get some metal involved who's only real values are 1. Shiny and 2. Doesn't corrode.

  • Power to them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B33RM17 ( 1243330 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:07PM (#40657699)
    More power to them. I don't know much in the area of finance and the like, but stories like this continue to give me the impression large financial institutions like to play fast and loose with other people's (read: little guy's) money. Too big to fail? More like too big to be allowed continued operation.
  • by divisionbyzero ( 300681 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:14PM (#40657747)

    inevitably Goldman will weasel its way out of it.

  • Sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Deepmist ( 2684833 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:18PM (#40657787)
    I read this story when it was published, the the guy that owned the company and lost his technology on top of all that money had a phd and was making huge advancements in the technology much faster than predicted, he's probably the reason Siri can exist. The saddest part is that he still had many improvements he was working on and now he just can't, the tech has been sold, he can't touch it anymore without getting sued. In the end humanity loses.
    • Re:Sad (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kolbe ( 320366 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:42PM (#40657961) Homepage

      Back in 1997-99, my colocation space at Level 3 was right next to Dragon Systems' cabinets. As such, I was able to chat with their IT team on several occasions and met the Bakers on at least one occurrence where we discussed the futures of digital speech recognition (Dragon 2000 was being developed for Win2k at the time). Their insights and knowledge of speech recognition were unmatched by anyone else in the industry, not even IBM (who was working on it at the time too) was as advanced and I have no doubt that we would not have Siri or other similar technologies today if not for the Baker's research from in and out of Carnegie Mellon University.

      The Baker bunch are not stupid people, they made a remarkable company last for almost 30 years, but it is obvious that they made a big mistake by putting everything in one "basket" as others here have stated. While I wish them luck, white collar crimes such as these are rarely won.

  • I don't get it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by decadentdepraved ( 2684831 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:23PM (#40657819) Journal
    I don't like GS (have had multiple experiences). But I'm still skeptical. Something seems off here. Given lack of good counsel, why did the Bakers go out on a limb, change course, and agree to an all-stock sale at the last minute? Why not walk away, or hire better advisors to get you what you need, and challenge GS fees in parallel? $580 mil was at stake. $5 mil is 1% of the pie. Seems like the only reason to sell is to get liquid. Why go to all that trouble just to swap shares of one stock for even higher risk and reward?
  • What I wondered is.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by biodata ( 1981610 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:24PM (#40657823)
    Who owns Scansoft, who apart from GS are the other big winners from this transaction? They got the world's best speech rec software for a fraction of its true value - I wonder who they were advised by?
  • Wellllllll (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:26PM (#40657839)

    "After consultations with Goldman Sachs,..."

    That's your problem right there.

  • by rogerz ( 78608 ) <> on Sunday July 15, 2012 @04:52PM (#40658045)

    ... and everyone in the industry knew that they were full of shit with their finances. The two founders - Lernout and Hauspie - were accountants, not technologists. The company had significant investment from the Belgian government, and L&H were politically well-connected enough to keep milking that funding source as they rode the tech frenzy of the 90's. In every instance where we competed against them, they always bid at ridiculously low prices that couldn't possibly be economically sensible. They had some decent technology, but their business practices were always suspect. It was very likely the taxpayer financing which kept their bubble from bursting before it did.

    To be fair, Dragon was primarily involved in desktop ASR, whereas L&H (and my company - Voice Control Systems), were focusing on telephony applications. So, the Bakers may not have been fully acquainted with L&H's reputation. But, really, they should have been extremely suspicious of this deal, especially when the offer was changed to 100% stock. TFA didn't say what the value of some of the competing offers were, but I'm guessing they were substantially less than $580M. If it sounds too good to be true ....

    None of this is to excuse Goldman, which apparently was hired to do something that they did not do. And clearly, the Bakers were done an injustice. But, something tells me that they were willfully blind to the possibility that this offer was unjustified. And for that, they should blame themselves.

  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @05:57PM (#40658469) Homepage []

    As that older article points out, the Bakers also spent some time early on at IBM Research doing speech stuff (and from when I was working at the IBM Speech group myself much later, it did not seem completely clear what way most of the knowledge was flowing). My undergrad adviser at Princeton, George A. Miller, who did a lot in the psychology of natural language and knew the Bakers (I think from when he was at Rockefeller with them), told me about this loss more than a decade ago, as a cautionary tale. More than the money, what really hurt most for the couple was not being able to work on their project anymore. For anyone who really cares about what they are working on, this is a good argument for working in the free and open source software realm rather than trying to finance proprietary software somehow, even when you think you are the "owner" of the software. Imagine if the Bakers had released Dragon as FOSS back then and built a consultancy around it -- at least they would not be alienated from their 20+ year labor of love (or "third child" as they called the software). In general, you also can't expect the same people who put their love into creating great things for the world to be fully prepared to deal with business sharks (even business sharks like GS being supposedly hired to "help" them). I'm glad my wife and I released our own labors of love (like our Garden Simulator and PlantStudio software) as FOSS instead of taking on investors and making it proprietary, since at least we can always still work with the source code. Of course, the flip side of that is often not having the time to do that because of a need to do other things for money. We ideally need a "basic income" and similar social changes to solve that problem and to minimize a software industry based around "artificial scarcity". [] []

  • Fiduciary duty (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @10:15PM (#40659839)

    The legal argument here will almost certainly be that, by accepting $5 million from the Bakers for consulting fees, Goldman Sachs had a fiduciary duty [] to act in their best interest regarding the transaction.

    You can argue that they should have known better than to "put all their eggs in one basket". But the fact that the client should have known better is not a legal defense to a breach of a fiduciary duty. That's why you're paying the professional in the first place – because they're supposed to know better than you! They have a legal obligation to use that knowledge in your interests, not double-dip on the side.

    The fact that Goldman considered investing in L&H and then specifically declined to do so is strong evidence that this recommendation to the Bakers was in violation of their legal duties.

  • Get 'em! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geohump ( 782273 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <pmuhoeg>> on Monday July 16, 2012 @11:05AM (#40662951) Journal
    Go Jim and Janet, Go!
    Don't forget legal fees and damages!

    Former Dragon Employee, wishing you well.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle