Apple Inc sues China on IP

Updated: 2014-02-28 13:12

By Amy He in New York and Cao Yin in Beijing (China Daily USA)

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US tech giant Apple is involved in legal dispute in China again: the company is suing a Chinese government agency and a local company over a patent dispute related to Apple's Siri product.

Apple claimed that the patent of intelligent personal assistant software designed by Shanghai-based Zhizhen Network Technology is similar to its own, and said that Zhizhen's patent is invalid.

The case involves Siri, a voice-activated software Apple describes as an "intelligent personal assistant" that responds to voice commands on iPhones and iPads, and a similar software developed by Zhizhen Network Technology.

Apple asked for a review of the software's patent by the State Intellectual Property Office, the agency in charge of patent rights, in an effort to prove it invalid. But the patent office, which asked five professionals to establish a group to conduct the review, told Apple that the patent was valid.

The patent dispute between the two technology companies was heard at Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court on Thursday morning, attracting at least 100 residents, which included technology fans and local media.

"They're suing the government, and at the same time, they need the government to help expand. That's a pretty big risk in China," said Mark Kesslen, chair of the intellectual property group at law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP in New York. "Their market power, their power, their brand means that they can take the risk more than another handset maker."

In 2010, Apple's Siri entered the Chinese market and has been popular among the public, but the Zhizhen Network Technology claimed that Siri's functions were similar to those of its own Xiao i Robot software, which had received a patent in 2004.

The software had been used extensively in cellphones and by telecom enterprises, such as China Mobile and China Unicom.

Zhizhen Network Technology had sued Apple last year, saying Siri was designed using technology that Zhizhen had already patented.

"Apple has been working on this kind of technology for a long time, I can't imagine they would take this kind of risk for a hollow threat," Kesslen said.

During Thursday's trial, Apple's lawyers, Fu Jianjun and Kang Jianzhong, said that Siri was different from Zhizhen's software.

But Yuan Yang, Zhizhen's attorney, refuted that claim, saying that their product was promoted prior to Siri.

More intellectual property cases will take place in China's courts, Yuan said, adding that more Chinese companies are increasingly looking to protect their own intellectual rights.

"There are lots of good reasons to think that a lot of American companies are having more success dealing with intellectual property (IP) issues in China, in part because there are more Chinese industries reliant on IP now than there were a decade ago," said Mark McKenna, professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.

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(China Daily USA 02/28/2014 page1)