The lawsuit could prevent the top US smartphone maker from selling almost all of its products in China, its second biggest market after the domestic arena.
Shanghai Zhizhen Network Technology Co. has announced that it is suing Apple for an estimated 10 billion yuan ($1.43 billion) in damages in a Shanghai court, accusing the iPhone and iPad maker of violating an exclusive patent the Chinese artificial-intelligence company has owned since late June for a virtual assistant similar to Siri, Apple’s voice-activated function in its architecture, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Shanghai Zhizhen, frequently referred to as Xiao-i, asked Apple to freeze sales, production, and the use of products flouting the patent, which effectively concerns all the US tech giant’s gadgets, from smartphones to laptops with pre-installed Siri.
Although an injunction could potentially be granted some time in the future, a former Chinese judge says it’s unlikely an attempt to ban Siri would succeed. Fang Jianwei, a litigation partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm in Shanghai said such injunctions have to meet strict conditions and are rarely granted by Chinese courts.
Separately, he went on to say that the patent infringement suit isn’t a complete win for Shanghai Zhizhen. While the Supreme Court ruled last month that the Chinese company’s patent is effective and valid, the judges could still find that the technology Siri is based on and Shanghai Zhizhen’s patent is different enough, and thus there would be no grounds for banning Apple’s products.
Apple boasts a significant niche in China, with the Asian country’s customers coming in second after the US domestic market. However, Apple has recently faced more competition from local telecom equipment makers including Huawei Technologies Co., which overtook Apple, who incidentally now faces infringement claims on five patents held by the inventor of stereo headphones, US audio pioneer Koss, to become the world’s top seller of smartphones in the second quarter of the year.
Spats over intellectual property have driven bilateral trade relations between the US and China to their lowest point in decades, primarily due to the Huawei conflict, which resulted in Washington blacklisting the company.
President Trump the other day threatened to ban Chinese short-video app TikTok for national security reasons. US officials are currently in talks over a potential sale of TikTok’s American branch to Microsoft Corp and adjustment of its infrastructure to the American company’s demands.