Apple dragged back to court

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:08pm


It appears to be open season on Apple as a target of lawsuits on the mainland.

The world's largest technology company now faces what is believed to be a third case filed against it in a mainland court, more than four weeks after the iPhone maker settled a dispute over its domestic iPad trademarks with a US$60 million payout to a Chinese firm.

The Zhenjiang People's Intermediate Court, in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, yesterday confirmed to the South China Morning Post that a Taiwanese plaintiff is suing Apple for allegedly violating his patent on technology that he claims is used on the California-based company's FaceTime video-calling software application and protocol.

'We accepted a lawsuit against Apple Inc on July 31 over an alleged infringement of intellectual property rights,' a court spokeswoman said. 'We have sent a notice to Apple Inc, but we are not sure if they have already received the notice.'

The plaintiff, who the Zhenjiang court would identify only as Lee, was reported by the Jiangsu news portal to have included in his lawsuit the Zhenjiang branch of sales firm Shanghai Communications Equipment and Apple Computer Trading (Shanghai).

Lee did not propose a specific amount as compensation.

He claims to hold a so-called utility model patent on 'voice network personal digital assistant' technology. He alleged to have discovered the patent violation after using the FaceTime function on an iPhone 4S that he recently purchased from an Apple dealer in Zhenjiang.

Apple's spokeswoman in Beijing could not be reached for comment.

FaceTime, which was introduced by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in June 2010, is also used on Apple's iPad, iPod touch, iMac and MacBook products.

Stan Abrams, a Beijing-based intellectual property lawyer and professor, said the mainland has three different types of patents: the invention patent, which is given the highest level of protection of about 20 years for introducing major innovation; the design patent, which concerns aesthetics; and the utility model patent, which has a 10-year term granted for certain small or incremental innovations that grow less valuable over time.

Apple could face Lee in court as early as next month. The Zhenjiang court's spokeswoman said: 'It normally takes about a month before we have the first hearing.'

Abrams said Lee's case would 'cause red flags to go up'. For example, it was filed in a court that is not as experienced in trying intellectual property disputes as the courts in Beijing or Shanghai.

The case was also filed just weeks after Apple paid a record settlement to Proview Technology (Shenzhen) to end their iPad trademarks dispute.

Apple has other mainland legal wrangles on its plate. Bi Jiao, an iPod user, last week filed a case at the Lixia People's Court in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, that alleged Apple violated his rights as a consumer after the firm refused to update the warranty on two devices he owned.

Last month, Zhizhen Network Technology said it was pursuing a case against Apple in a Shanghai court by claiming its patented 'Xiao iRobot' technology was infringed by Siri, the intelligent voice-command application used on the iPhone 4S.