Apple has today lost a court case against a Chinese company’s Zhizhen voice recognition patent, in a development that could threaten the sale of all Siri-enabled devices in the country.
The Chinese company has created an iOS and Android personal assistant app very similar to Siri, called Xiao i Robot. Xiao i Robot was created back in 2003, working as a text-based chat bot that ran in instant messaging services. Zhizhen evolved its original technology for call centers, and voice control software for TVs, phones and cars. It was not until 2012 that Zhizhen accused Apple of a patent infringement, following Apple’s addition of Mandarin and Cantonese to Siri’s language database. Zhizhen’s patent was valied from 2006, a year before the release of the original iPhone.
Apple’s claims that it was not aware of the existence of Zhizhen’s patent, and further stated that Siri’ voice-recognition tech was noticeably different to the original Zhizhen patent. Initially, Apple attempted to invalidate the patent through China’s State Intellectual Property Office, a move that was refused. Apple then sued both the patent authority mentioned and Zhizhen itself, but this case was ruled against yesterday (Tuesday) by Beijing’s Number One Intermediate People’s Court.
Of course, the existence of this patent does threaten Siri-enable devices in China. If Apple is alleged to have infringed Zhizhen’s patent, then there is a possibility that it will not be allowed to include Mandarin and Cantonese in its Siri database, a change that would seriously affect device sales in China. However, this is an extreme scenario for Apple. It’s more likely that Apple will seek a financial settlement with Zhizhen, and that device sales will continue as normal. Apple’s claims that Siri’s technology is sufficiently different so as not to represent an infringement is yet to be ruled on.