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Tencent, Sohu tussle over the toolbar

2010-07-07 09:58

Courts rule both sides of dispute unfairly disabled competing software

Legal wrangles between leading Internet service companies Tencent and Sohu over input software have recently come to an end - with both sides found at fault.

Just a day after Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court supported Tencent's claim against two firms affiliated with Sohu, ordering 240,000 yuan in damages and litigation fees, Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court ruled in another lawsuit that Tencent should compensate Sohu's business operation Sogou more than 230,000 yuan.

The results show both sides engaged in unfair competition, Beijing Business Today cited You Yunting, a lawyer of Shanghai-based Debund Law Offices, as the saying.

The dispute began when Tencent added a new function to its QQ instant messenger software setup in early 2009 that allowed users to select input software, according to

Software including Sogou's language input system - popular with some Chinese computer users - was then disabled if left as an unselected option.

About a month later, upgraded Sogou software did the same thing to other input programs, Chinabyte says.

Sogou initiated legal proceedings against Tencent in June 2009, claiming Tencent misled users into removing its input program and asking 20 million yuan in damages.

Sohu Vice-President Wang Xiaochuan told China Business News that the design and intellectual property for Sogou's input method was copied by Tencent.

In response, Tencent said in a statement that the QQ input program does not infringe and its setup program has full respect for users' rights to choose and does not raise technological barriers to competitors, the company said.

Tencent then filed a counterclaim in court alleging the Sogou input program interferes with QQ's normal operation and traps users into deleting already-installed QQ language programs.

User rights to know and choose are keys to judging if a software program infringes on others, Chinabyte cited Yu Guosheng, an attorney of Beijing-based Shengfeng Lawyer, as the saying

If software is disabled without user knowledge or users are misled into doing so, such efforts might constitute unfair competition, Yu said.

Data provided by the two companies show that Sougou applied for 37 patents related to its language input program while Tencent had 38 patent applications, China Business News reports.

Behind the legal cases over free programs is a scramble for prominence on a computer's desktop, Beijing Business Today cited Fu Liang, an IT industrial expert, as the saying.

Many software developers are now fighting to have their icon on the taskbar.

With widespread use of the Internet, increase installation of free software can bring enormous commercial value.

The multimedia player Storm, Thunder for downloads and Safety Guard 360 antivirus software are examples that helped companies generate hundreds of millions of yuan in revenues.

But frequent litigation tends creates a vicious circle and stains China's Internet image, said Wang Bin, secretary-general of an Internet copyright association affiliated with the Internet Society of China.

"If it continues, there will be no winners," Wang said.  

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