Apple returns to court over patent dispute

Updated: 2014-10-17 07:08

By Cao Yin(China Daily)

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Technology giant Apple returned to court on Thursday in an administrative dispute with China's intellectual property authority.

The case was scheduled to start at 2 pm in a courtroom with 30 seats at the Beijing High People's Court, but did not start until 2:47 pm as more than 50 residents, including IT enthusiasts and the authority's officers, wanted to hear the high-profile dispute from the public gallery.

During the trial, Apple asked for the reversal of a judgment by the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court that said the authority's patent for an intelligent robot, granted to a technology company in Shanghai, was valid.

The lawsuit between Apple and the State Intellectual Property Office dates to June 2012, when Zhizhen Network Technology, the company in Shanghai, claimed functions of Apple's Siri was similar to its robot, for which it received a patent in 2004.

Apple's Siri is a digital assistant that responds to voice commands on iPhones and has been popular in China since 2010.

To ensure the legality of its products, Apple applied to the IP office to review the robot patent, but the authority ruled it valid in September 2013.

Apple then brought a suit against the authority with the intermediate people's court, which upheld the patent's validity in July. Apple appealed that judgment to the high people's court.

No decision was announced in the case on Thursday.

In another case, the Shanghai No 1 Intermediate People's Court is hearing a lawsuit from Zhizhen, which is claiming Apple infringed its robot product patent.

Fu Jianjun, Apple's lawyer, said at the Beijing trial on Thursday that the functions of the robot are not in accordance with the product's introduction.

"The introduction only says that the robot is a game server, but doesn't give detailed descriptions of how to use it, or detail the interactions with users via the product, which is key for inventors to get a patent," Fu said.

Kang Jianzhong, another attorney for Apple, said Siri is different from the robot that is mainly used for playing games. He also requested the high people's court to ask the authority to withdraw their patent.

Yuan Yang, a lawyer for Zhizhen, said its robot was promoted prior to Siri and the two products have many similarities.

"Our robot has been extensively used in cellphones and telecom enterprises such as China Mobile and China Unicom," Yuan said.

For instance, using the robot, telecom operators can inform users how much money is in their cellphone account balance via a text message.

Some users are worried the verdict from Thursday's court case could result in the banning of Siri in China, but Wang Guohua, a Beijing lawyer who specializes in IP disputes, said it is too early to know that.

"Siri's destiny won't only rely on the administrative lawsuit. It will also relate to the forthcoming judgment given by the Shanghai court," Wang said.

IP cases in China involving Apple have been common in recent years.

In 2012, Apple paid $60 million in a court-mediated settlement over a trademark case. The money was given to Proview Technology in Shenzhen to end a dispute on the iPad trademark, said Guangdong High People's Court.

Apple returns to court over patent dispute

(China Daily 10/17/2014 page4)