Ap­ple Inc sues China on IP

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By AMY HE in New York and CAO YIN in Bei­jing

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 Num­ber One 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. Con­tact the writ­ers at amyhe@chi­nadai­lyusa.com and caoyin@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

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