In 2012, Apple introduced a Mandarin version of its virtual assistant, SIRI, in China. The voice and name of the software, which is believed to be acronym for Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface, is recognised by iPhone users around the globe, but it appears that Siri may be come speechless in China, due to the fact that Apple may have violated a patent belonging to a Chinese company in Shanghai.
Zhizhen Network sued Apple in 2012 to block the company from selling products with Siri included. The company claimed that Apple’s Siri infringed on patents that Zhizhen has held since 2006, and on Monday July 12, the First Intermediate Court in Beijing ruled in Zhizhen’s favor, stating that the Mandarin version of Siri infringed on the Zhizhen speech-recognition patent.
The ruling, which Apple says it will appeal, could curtail the company’s ability to offer the voice recognition application in China. The potential setback can be important strategically for Apple as China is one of its biggest markets, and Siri is recognised as the voice of iOS. According to the reports of the patent infringement suit, the issues are not with the application itself, but with the manner in which it works – by recognizing and analyzing speech from the signals that are received. Apple has said that it was not aware of the Zhizhen patents, and does not believe that the company violates or infringes on any intellectual property rights.
It is not the first time that Apple and Siri has been the subject of lawsuits. The company has sparred with rival Samsung, a University in Taiwan, and several other companies over the use and operation of the technology. In 2012, Apple paid $60 million to Proview Technology in Shenzhen for the use of the iPad trademark, and the company was also fined more than $160,000 when apps in its App store were discovered selling pirated eBooks. However, Apple has always prevailed and Siri continues to give Apple what many observers believe to be a competitive edge. Users state that the voice recognition technology that offers hands-free information and search capability is without parallel, and it may be one of the reasons why the iPhone continues to be tops among smartphones and competitors are emulating it with similar technology. Spokespeople for Apple Inc. say that Apple is willing to have discussions with Zhizhen, even as the decision is appealed in a separate court.
The Zhizhen voice-recognition service, known as Xiao iRobot, originally began in 2003 as a chatbot that recognized text-based messages. The software was adopted for use by the government and other Chinese organisations. It was later expanded to include voice-controlling applications for use in televisions and autos, as well as an app for the iPhone that allows users to use the voice recognition app to find restaurants and train schedules.
Although the ruling poses a threat to Apple, observers and industry practitioners in the country, such as the Mobile Internet Industry Alliance in China, hope that Siri does not become speechless in China or that Apple is forced to discontinue selling its products in the country. It is hoped that a financial settlement can be reached soon.
By Dale Davidson