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March 27, 2013

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Shanghai firm drags Apple to court in 'Siri' patent right violation case

A SHANGHAI Internet technology company is dragging Apple Inc to court today, alleging the US-based firm's use of the Siri application infringed on its patent right.

The Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People's Court will hold a pre-hearing at 2pm today to let Apple and Shanghai Zhi Zhen Internet Technology Co Ltd exchange evidence.

Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant for iPhones and iPads, is popular among Apple fans for recognizing speech and answering queries, including calling a contact, finding the nearest gas station or checking the weather.

"Siri is very similar to Xiaoi, a chat robot system we have been developing since 2003," said Mei Li, a spokeswoman of Shanghai Zhi Zhen which filed the lawsuit.

Mei said her company applied for patent rights for Xiaoi in 2004 in China and the patent right went into effect in 2006.

Mei said Siri was also based on word chat services before it was acquired by Apple on April 28, 2010.

Apple cooperated with Nuance, one of the world's biggest speech recognition service providers, to develop it into a voice-chat application.

Siri was a new application which was introduced in China after the iPhone 4S hit the market.

"The core technology of Siri is man-machine interaction rather than speech recognition, and that is based on the word chat robot system xiaoi patented," Mei said.

Over the years, the Xiaoi robot system has been used in many fields, including government hotlines, banking, telecommunications and e-commerce customer service sections, Zhi Zhen claimed.

A product of Xiaoi is "MSN robot" on the instant messenger software.

The MSN robot can chat with users and handle inquiries from news, map, stocks, weather, television programs and even pinyin.

Siri too has an international patent, but Mei said Siri was established in 2007 - a year after Xiaoi's patent came into effect in China.

"We think Siri infringes our patent right in the word chat. We want them to stop it as everyone can see iPhones and iPads are widely sold in China," Mei said.

Zhi Zhen filed a suit on June 21, 2012, asking Apple Inc to stop producing and selling products with Siri in China.

The hearing was delayed because the court decided to deliver the notice through diplomatic channels, as Apple is based in the United States.

Zhi Zhen said it was not demanding compensation but asked the court to confirm the patent right in this case. Apple meanwhile has applied to China's State Intellectual Property Office to demand that Xiaoi's patent be invalidated.

Shanghai Daily tried to reach Apple Inc yesterday but was unable to reach it for comments.


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