A China-based artificial intelligence company has filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Apple Inc. The case, if it results in favour of the Chinese firm, could prevent the American tech giant from trading many of its products in some of its most important markets apart from the U.S.
The Chinese company is suing Apple for an estimated 10 billion yuan ($1.43 billion) as damages and is also demanding an injunction in a local court.
The court’s decision in June backed the validity of the Chinese patent for a chatbot which is similar to Apple’s Siri.
Shanghai Zhizhen Intelligent Network Technology Co. Ltd. alleged that the Apple products – iPhone and iPad violated the patent of the Chinese AI company for a virtual assistant whose technical engineering is similar to Siri’s.
Bone of contention
In the lawsuit, it has been argued that the speech recognition technology of Shanghai Zhizhen or Xiao-I that Apple uses in its products is violative of the patent that was granted in 2009, that is, after five years from the date of filing an application (2004).
Shanghai Zhizhen has also asked Apple to put a halt on its sales, production and the use of products till the continuation of litigation proceedings.
What is Siri?
Siri is a voice-activated function in Apple’s smart phones and laptops that enables users to dictate text messages and set alarms on their devices. And Apple integrates it in all of its devices that are Mac Computers, iPhone, iPad, Apple watch, Apple TV and Homepod (smart speaker).
In response to all the allegations, Apple expressed that it was disappointed upon the lawsuit by Shanghai Zhizhen and clarified that Siri doesn’t contain features present in the patent product of the Chinese company. It also stated the chatbot of the Chinese firm is for instant messaging and games.
Apple stated, “We look forward to presenting the facts to the court and we will continue to focus on delivering the best products and services to our customers all over the world.”
The Supreme Court of China, in late June, had confirmed the validity of Shanghai Zhizhen’s patent on a Chinese virtual assistant. The reports of Global times state that this patent product has been the subject of an eight-year-long battle between two companies in China. Xiao-i had sued Apple in the very next year of launching Siri (2011) in iPhones back in 2012.
“The court will decide to put a stop on the sale of Apple products in China till the trial, if the company applies for a preliminary injunction,” said Fang Jianwei, a former Chinese judge (currently a litigation partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm in Shanghai).
He added that “the injunctions have to meet the stringent conditions rarely granted by Chinese courts.”
This allegation of the patent breach is also not clear cut win for Xiao-i. Though the Supreme Court of China ruled that the Chinese company’s patent is valid, accurate and well grounded, the current court could also be equally capable of finding the distinction between the technologies used in Siri and Xiao-I. And this would be enough to decide in favor of Apple.
Ban on Chinese apps
Recently Apple has banned various Chinese apps from its products but China is the second largest home-sales market of the American brand. Apple has recently faced more competition from domestic device makers including Huawei Technologies Co. This became the world’s top seller of smartphones in the second quarter of the year surpassing Apple.
As per Apple, the quarterly sales of Apple products in China rose slightly to $9.33 billion. Amid the pandemic Apple is bolstering discounts on its iPhone 11 models.
The conflicts between the two countries since the pandemic keep taking new turns. The conflicts over intellectual property, technology and trade are impacting the trade relations between the U.S. and China in the worst possible way in this decade. President Trump has also threatened to ban Chinese short-video app TikTok on national-security grounds after the ban by India.
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Apple has faced frequent lawsuits for patent infringement since years.
In some cases, the companies buy patents from their inventors with certain instructions of using them and make such infringement claims against tech giants, and in certain other cases, companies claim infringement after the use of a certain technology by Apple. However, Apple has also won patent cases many times before but winning patent rights in China is tough as the courts favor their home country.