A patent case against Apple in China two years in the making has almost come to a close and, unlike its victory over Samsung in the US, things aren’t looking good for the Cupertino-based company. A court in Beijing has ruled that Apple’s popular voice-controlled virtual personal assistant Siri uses speech recognition technology in violation of the patents held by a a Chinese tech company.
In 2012, Zhizhen Internet Technology sued Apple for intellectual property (IP) rights infringement over technology used in Siri. Of course, Apple fought for its own tech and had taken not only Zhizhen to court but also the State Intellectual Property Office of China. It wanted to get the court to declare the patent invalid. Unfortunately, the Beijing First Immediate Court sided with Zhizhen on this one.
This is hardly the only patent battle the Apple has had to face over Siri, but it is quite a monumental one, especially considering how deeply Siri integrates into Apple’s most recent iPhones. Apple has also been increasingly wooing the Chinese populace, making concessions and holding exclusive events for this rather large mobile market. This latest ruling could make that relationship a bit more trying.
For its part, Apple is both saying that it doesn’t believe it is infringing on Zhizhen’s patent and that it was not aware of such a patent in the first place when it developed Siri. Patents are a tricky issue, especially when you only consider your own country’s patent portfolio and don’t have exhaustive access to other patents filed in other countries. At the very least, Apple could be laying the grounds to claim that there was no willful infringement should it still be found guilty on its appeal.
Apple will appeal the matter to the Beijing Higher People’s Court. At the same time, however, it says that it is open to discussions with Zhizhen over the matter, implying that it is willing to enter into a settlement should things turn for the worse. Given Siri’s central place in Apple’s mobile ecosystem, that might be the only feasible option it has, unless it wins the case, of course.