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As it prepares for the iPhone 13 launch on September 14, Apple must contend with the latest legal challenge over virtual assistant Siri filed by Chinese artificial intelligence firm Shanghai Zhizhen Intelligent Network Technology. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Chinese AI firm seeks to stop Apple’s iPhone production, sales ahead of new device launch next week

  • Shanghai Zhizhen Intelligent Network Technology, also known as Xiao-i Robot, continues to push its nearly decade-long patent dispute with Apple over Siri
  • Apple is expected to launch the new iPhone 13 line and other devices in the US at an event on September 14
A Chinese artificial intelligence firm has asked a Shanghai court to stop the production and sale of Apple’s iPhone in the country over a long-standing patent dispute involving virtual assistant Siri, around a week before the world’s most valuable company launches the latest update of its flagship smartphone.
Shanghai Zhizhen Intelligent Network Technology, also known as Xiao-i Robot, last Friday applied to the Shanghai Higher People’s Court for a preliminary injunction to ban the manufacture, sale and export of iPhones containing Siri that infringe on its patent, according to the Chinese company’s statement that was posted on its official WeChat account on Tuesday.

Xiao-i Robot chief executive Yuan Hui said in the statement that Apple did not respect its intellectual property. “Apple should immediately stop the infringement, take down and stop selling the related products,” Yuan said.

The statement came a few hours before Apple, with a market capitalisation of US$2.59 trillion as of Wednesday, announced a “special event” in the US on September 14, when the company is expected to launch its latest iPhone 13 line and other devices. This event, like Apple’s other product launches since 2020, will be held online.

Responding to a request for comment on Wednesday, an Apple spokeswoman referred to the company’s previous statement issued in August 2020, when it refuted the allegations in Xiao-i Robot’s patent infringement lawsuit that sought 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) in damages.
Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant software, employs a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations and perform actions by handing requests to various internet services. Photo: Shutterstock

“Siri does not contain features included in their patent, which relates to games and instant messaging … Independent appraisers certified by the Supreme People’s Court have also concluded that Apple does not infringe Xiao-i Robot’s technology,” Apple said in its statement at that time.

Xiao-i Robot’s latest filing for preliminary injunction continues its nearly decade-long legal dispute with Apple over Siri, the digital voice assistant that is currently deployed on the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple Watch and the HomePod mini.

In June last year, China’s Supreme Court ruled that Xiao-i Robot’s patent was valid, after multiple legal battles with Apple since 2012. The Chinese company first applied for its patent, described as a chat robot system that can complete conversations in natural language, in 2004. It was granted that patent in 2009, before Apple first integrated Siri with its iPhone 4s model in 2011.

Foxconn in push to hire 200,000 more workers ahead of iPhone 13 launch

The injunction, if granted, would not bode well for Apple’s ambitious new launch, which has prompted main supplier Foxconn Technology Group to ramp up recruitment of assembly line workers at the world’s biggest iPhone factory in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou.

Apple’s Asian supply chain is expected to initially produce an estimated 90 million units of the iPhone 13, up from the initial batch of 80 million units for the iPhone 12 launch last year, according to Dan Ives, managing director at investment firm Wedbush Securities, in a research note on Tuesday.

Ives said Apple is targeting to ship from 130 million to 150 million new iPhones in the second half of this year.