Apple may be open to a deal on patent row over Siri

iPhone maker dealt setback in lawsuit as Beijing court rules in favour of Shanghai-based firm

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 4:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 4:55am

Technology giant Apple could be open to a settlement to end a case brought by a mainland software company for alleged patent infringement in Siri, the digital personal assistant application used on the iPhone and iPad.

Shanghai-based Zhizhen Network Technology initiated its legal challenge against Apple in June 2012, claiming that Siri's voice-recognition interface for answering questions violated the patent of its "Xiao i Robot" software.

Apple was dealt a fresh legal setback yesterday when Beijing's No 1 Intermediate Court ruled on appeal in favour of the patent review committee - a panel under the State Intellectual Property Office - which had earlier rejected the US company's application to invalidate Zhizhen's patent.

The court said in a statement that Apple will appeal its decision to the Beijing Higher People's Court.

A Shanghai court heard Zhizhen's patent-infringement lawsuit in July last year, but no ruling has been made.

"Apple created Siri to provide customers with their own personal assistant by using their voice. Unfortunately, we were not aware of Zhizhen's patent before we introduced Siri and we do not believe we are using this patent," Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

"While a separate court considers this question, we remain open to reasonable discussions with Zhizhen."

The last time Apple settled a big dispute on the mainland was in July 2012, when it ended a long and acrimonious legal battle over the domestic use of the iPad name with a US$60 million payout to Proview Technology (Shenzhen).

It was substantially less than the US$2 billion settlement the bankrupt mainland firm wanted.

Yuan Yang, a lawyer for Zhizhen, yesterday expressed confidence about his client's legal standing based on "the principle in patent cases which says first come, first served".

Zhizhen applied for its patent on the mainland in 2004 and received approval in 2009.

"It took five years to issue the patent, which shows that the patent office is very prudent and careful in granting such rights," Yuan said.

Apple, in contrast, introduced Siri on the iPhone 4S in October 2011 and made it available on the mainland in January 2012.