Apple Facing $1.4 Billion Lawsuit by Chinese AI Firm in Siri Patent Battle

Apple has been hit with a $1.4 billion lawsuit by a Chinese artificial intelligence company that alleges Apple violated a patent it owns for a virtual assistant similar to Siri, according to a paywalled Wall Street Journal report.

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Shanghai Zhizhen Network Technology Co. said in a statement on Monday it was suing Apple for an estimated 10 billion yuan ($1.43 billion) in damages in a Shanghai court, alleging the iPhone and iPad maker's products violated a patent the Chinese company owns for a virtual assistant whose technical architecture is similar to ‌Siri‌. ‌Siri‌, a voice-activated function in Apple's smartphones and laptops, allows users to dictate text messages or set alarms on their devices.

As part of the lawsuit, Shanghai Zhizhen, also known as Xiao-i, wants Apple to cease "manufacturing, using, promising to sell, selling, and importing" all products that it says infringe on the patent, which was ruled as valid by China's Supreme Court in late June.

Apple didn't immediately respond to WSJ's request for comment.

The patent ruling is the culmination of several court trials between Zhi Zhen and Apple that's been ongoing for nearly a decade. MacRumors first reported on the Chinese AI firm's claim that ‌Siri‌ infringes on its patent rights in March 2013. The claim is specifically in relation to Xiao-i, a chat robot system the Zhi Zhen has been developing since 2003.

The Xiao-i bot began life as a chat bot for MSN and similar networks, but it has since migrated to a number of platforms including Android and iOS, and evolved to look quite similar to ‌Siri‌. Zhi Zhen applied for the virtual assistant patent in 2004 and it was granted in 2009.

‌Siri‌ was acquired by Apple in April 2010 under the direction of Steve Jobs, but Apple's first notion of a digital personal assistant was originally a concept video in 1987, called the Knowledge Navigator.

Top Rated Comments

Williesleg Avatar
8 months ago
I first saw the headline and thought this was April 1st, didn't realize China actually had and enforced patents! Whoopsee!
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ian87w Avatar
8 months ago

I first saw the headline and thought this was April 1st, didn't realize China actually had and enforced patents! Whoopsee!
They do. But they are biased against foreign companies. Local companies get full protection from the government.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
supremedesigner Avatar
8 months ago
Not surprising...

China has been stealing a lot of technologies from all over the world but now this? That's insane.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
coldwaves Avatar
8 months ago
This case has been going on for many years. The fight centers around whether Zhizhen's patent is valid. Apple first sued to invalidate Zhizhen's patent claim in 2013. Beijing Court rejected Apple's claim and ruled that Zhizhen owns that patent. Then Apple appealed to Beijing Intermediate Court, which again rejected Apple's claim. Apple then appeals to Beijing High Court. Beijing High Court ruled that information about the patent provided by Zhizhen to the court is not in sufficient details and thus sided with Apple. Zhizhen then appeals to the Supreme Court and the court ruled that Zhizhen's patent is indeed valid. However, there is not a ruling yet about whether Apple violates the Zhizhen's patent.

The contention about the patent appears to be about the technicality of the patent application process. Apple's argument is that a gaming function in the patent is an essential function of the patent and is not declared in sufficient details. Zhizhen argues that the gaming function is not at the core part of the patent and thus the details declared in the patent application is appropriate.

The bias in the comments here on the forum is appalling, but perhaps not surprising. It is important to look into the details to know what happens. For many people, when a US company is alleged to violate IP, it is always a victim of unfair trial or a victim of patent troll. When a Chinese company is alleged to violate IP, it is always Chinese stealing tech.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Maximara Avatar
8 months ago

If you actually read the article, you will see that Zhizhen applied for patent in 2004 and Apple acquired Siri in 2010. It is not until Oct 2011 Apple released a beta version of Siri on iPhone 4s. Zhizhen cannot copy something nonexistent.
If only it was that simple. "Mac OS 8 and 9 has optional voice recognition software, which takes your speech and turns it into commands to control your computer. (...) English Speech Recognition can be found on the Mac OS CD-ROM: under CD Extras: Universal Access: Easy Access." - BBC Website ('http://www.bbc.co.uk/accessibility/archive/mac/keyboard/vr/voice-recog-os9.shtml')

Mac OS 8 came out in 1997 and Mac OS 9 came out in 1999.

More over "Siri is a spin-out ('https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin-out') from the SRI International ('https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SRI_International') Artificial Intelligence Center, and is an offshoot of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ('https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA')'s (DARPA)-funded CALO ('https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CALO') project" (reference - SIRI RISING: The Inside Story Of Siri’s Origins — And Why She Could Overshadow The iPhone ('https://www.huffpost.com/entry/siri-do-engine-apple-iphone_n_2499165') )

The article itself has this piece of information: "In 2003, the agency’s investment arm, DARPA, tapped the non-profit research institute SRI International to lead a five-year, 500-person effort to build a virtual assistant, one the government hoped might yield software to help military commanders with both information overload and office chores."

If that little trip into the patent rabbit hold isn't enough there is Who invented Siri? Apple sued for patent infringement - who else might be in line? ('https://www.ambercite.com/amberblog/2018/9/25/apple-siri-sued')

So there is previous work going back to 2003 (one year before the Zhizhen patent) with related previous work going back to 1999 (five years before the Zhizhen patent) with a somewhat similar patent (US7558730 ('https://patents.google.com/patent/US7558730B2/en')) from 2001 (three years before the Zhizhen patent)

Aren't patents fun?
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Pbrutto Avatar
8 months ago
Given China’s general disregard for other countries/companies IP, this seems like it will be a nightmare for Apple. It’s easy for China to ignore knockoffs and IP theft by their own companies, but now that a company there is targeting a US company with a massive investment on their soil, I’m sure they will suddenly care.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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