The Siri voice assistant was first launched on the iPhone 4S. (Photo/Xinhua)
A Chinese technology firm has filed a patent lawsuit against Apple in a Shanghai court, reports Shanghai's First Financial Daily.
Zhi Zhen Internet Technology says Siri, Apple's intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator, violates a patent owned by the company, according to court filings confirmed by the newspaper. The patent in question, which was applied for in August 2004, is described as a "chatting robot system."
One of the patent holders is Yuan Hui, a representative of Zhi Zhen. Yuan is responsible for the "Xiao i" robot, which is described on its official website as the "Chinese Siri." Organizations and products that have collaborated with the Xiao i robot include Lenovo's smart TV, China Mobile, e-commerce platform Jingdong Mall and the Shanghai Human Resources and Social Security Bureau.
On Apple's official website, Siri is described as being able to "understand what you say, knows what you mean and even talk back," with the ability to search the web for answers to user questions. Zhi Zhen reportedly felt that the description was very similar to the functions of the Xiao i robot and purchased two iPhone 4S handsets — the first Apple handset to feature Siri — in April. After testing, Zhi Zhen believed that Siri fell within the scope of their patent and sent a letter to Apple in May, hoping to settle the dispute without litigation.
Zhi Zhen applied to a Shanghai court on June 21 after Apple failed to respond. A court official said that the case is currently in the pretrial phase.
Zhi Zhen has not yet asked for compensation, only a ruling that Apple has infringed his company's patent. Legal analysts say this is likely just a tactic and the chances are that if Zhi Zhen wins the company will ask for a payment that could exceed the US$60 million Apple has just agreed to pay Taiwan-based computer monitor maker Proview to settle their "iPad" trademark dispute.
This is not the first patent dispute involving Apple in China. In 2008, Cai Yaohua, the holder of a "smart audio server" patent, sued Apple in the central city of Wuhan. Cai said he believed the iPod contained audio functions that infringed his patent, but Apple rejected his settlement request of US$6 million. Instead, Apple applied to China's State Intellectual Property Office and successfully obtained a ruling that Cai's patent was invalid. Cai then sued the intellectual property office and also lost, though his appeal is still pending.
Li Yi, executive vice chairman and secretary general of the China Mobile Internet Industry Alliance, says many of the lawsuits against Apple are brought about by the hope the giant US company will offer a settlement rather than go through the hassle of a court case. There are many useless patents that are never developed but when another company produces a successful product, these patent holders will tend to come looking for a cut, Li said.
Zhi Zhen Internet Technology 智臻網路科技有限公司
Cai Yaohua 蔡耀華
Li Yi 李易