They’re everywhere, in everyone’s hands, and probably cozied into your pocket or sitting on your couch within arms’ reach: they’re iPhones and iPads. Now the Apple technology that uses the well-known voice of “Siri,” who interacts with users to map out routes to restaurants and add reminders to personal calendars, is a matter of hot debate among international patent attorneys in the U.S. and China. When Apple filed a suit with the Patent Review Committee under the State Intellectual Property Office and Shanghai Zhizhen Network Technology last February, they were optimistic about their claim that Zhizhen would be ruled as infringing on Apple’s patent for its voice recognition technology, but recent events have not backed their high hopes, according to this article in the International Business Times online.
Siri’s fate hung in the balance when the Patent Review Committee “rejected Apple’s plea to invalidate a similar patent held by Zhizhen,” prompting Apple to sue the PRC in addition to ZhiZhen Network Technology. But Apple is in unfamiliar territory now where China’s Beijing No 1 Intermediate People’s Court rejected its claims on the Siri technology. And while international patent attorneys and business lawyers like Micah McBride suspect that Apple will appeal in the People’s Court, the future of the voice recognition technology is uncertain.
Siri was developed seven years ago, in 2007 by Siri Inc., which Apple acquired in 2010. The voice recognition technology ZhiZhen is accused of poaching is called Xiao i Robot, whose features are remarkably similar to Siri’s and sparked suspicion and the eventual lawsuit filed by Apple’s international patent attorneys. ZhiZhen, however, is claiming that it applied for the patent in 2004 and was granted rights to the voice recognition technology in 2006, predating Siri’s existence.
In fact, Zhizhen filed its own patent-infringement lawsuit against Apple in June of 2012, just one among an increasing number of lawsuits that Apple has faced in China in recent years. The ruling denying Apple’s international patent attorneys a victory in the People’s Court would actually strengthen Zhizhen’s claim on the technology.
U.S. based technology and business lawyers like McBride note that Apple’s involvement in lawsuits seem to constitute a large part of its strategy to retain hold on its corner of the technology market. Its recent dispute with Samsung about patented technology spanned months and various courts across the globe. Apple has also faced class-action lawsuits claiming anti-trust violations and is known for “aggressively enforcing its intellectual property interests.” Some of the lawsuits that Apple has been involved with “have determined significant case law for the information technology industry,” and analysts and lawyers like McBride tend to keep tabs on the lawsuits—both international and domestic—that Apple gets involved in for their potential impact on business and technology law in the United States.
So while Siri will probably still be reminding us about dinner with our in-laws or directing us to the nearest gas station, Apple’s not giving up on making sure that she’s not only in our lives, but in the lives of the world’s poplulation—and most of all, in China.