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Chinese company sues Apple over patent dispute

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-03-28 15:43

SHANGHAI -- A Chinese company met Apple Inc in court on Wednesday, accusing the US-based tech giant of intellectual property right infringement regarding software used in its popular Siri software.

Shanghai Zhizhen Network Technology Co, the developer of voice-recognition technology Xiao i Robot, is alleging that Siri infringes on its patent, especially relating to "a type of instant messaging chat robot system."

The Chinese company said its product can respond to requests in an intelligent way based on its artificial intelligence servers and databases.

Siri, described by Apple as an "intelligent personal assistant," responds to user commands through voice-recognition software.

Both sides appeared at the Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People's Court for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday to present evidence to the court before a formal hearing begins.

Apple Computer Trading (Shanghai) Co, which is responsible for Apple sales in China, and Apple Inc applied to have the case delayed, but the motion was rejected by the court.

According to evidence presented by Zhizhen, it filed for a patent for the Xiao i Robot in 2004, while Apple's Siri, which made its debut with the release of the iPhone 4S in 2011, was first developed in 2007 by Siri Inc, a start-up company acquired by Apple in 2010.

In April 2012, Zhizhen had sent letters to Apple Computer Trading (Shanghai) Co and Apple Inc, seeking to resolve the dispute through negotiation, but received no reply. The Chinese company filed a lawsuit on June 21, 2012, demanding that Apple stop the manufacture, sale and use of products with Siri technology in China.

"The product involved in the case is the iPhone 4S. But more are to be affected as Apple rolls out more new products such as the iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad Mini and iPod Touch 5," said Si Weijiang, an attorney representing Zhizhen.

Apple, however, said Siri has an international patent and their products installed with Siri software are not related to the Xiao i Robot technology, so it did not violate the patent.

Apple also said at Wednesday's hearing that a detailed technical appraisal and analysis of Siri and Xiao i Robot should be presented as evidence to determine whether Siri has violated Zhizhen's intellectual property rights. The company held that Zhizhen has failed to provide such information.

"Once the infringement is confirmed, Apple may be ordered to stop selling its products with Siri or delete the software on its products in China," said Zhao Zhanling, a researcher with the Intellectual Property Research Center of the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

However, Li Yi, secretary-general of the China Mobile Internet Industry Alliance, reasoned that Apple would be unlikely to stop selling its products in China because the market is so important to the US electronics giant.

He also speculated that after a long court process, the two parties would likely reach a financial settlement out of court.

Last year, Apple paid $60 million to Proview Technology (Shenzhen) to end a protracted legal dispute over the iPad trademark in China.

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