Chinese Tech Firm Sues Apple for $1.4B, Claims Siri Infringes on Patents
A Chinese tech firm has filed a $1.4 billion lawsuit against Apple claiming that the Siri voice assistant on its patents for similar technology, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Shanghai Zhizhen Network Technology, also known as Xiao-i, demanded a halt to all sales and production of products it says infringe on its patents, which would mean almost every Apple product.
Siri in Court
China’s Supreme Court granted Xiao-i the patent in June, after eight years of legal arguments and multiple trials with Apple. The 10 billion yuan lawsuit specifically cites similarities in its patents and Siri’s technical architecture as the reason for the complaint. Now that Xiao-i can claim vindication by the country’s highest court, it can apply for an injunction that could prevent Apple from selling Siri-enabled devices in China until the trial is resolved. Such a move by the Chinese courts would be tricky to pull off, however, especially since Xiao-i could face punitive counter-suits if they lose the new case. Though the court validated its patents, Xiao-i still has to prove that its tech is so similar that Apple is illicitly copying it.
Even the threat of halting sales in China could be a huge problem for Apple. China is a major market for the company, with only the U.S. bringing in more revenue. In Apple’s quarterly report last week, the company reported $9.33 billion in sales, a slight rise that makes up $16% of global revenue for the quarter. Apple doesn’t have much of a winning streak in China when it comes to these lawsuits. It lost a court fight in 2016 over the iPhone trademark with a leather goods company selling with the label IPHONE. Apple also had to pay a $60 million settlement in 2012 to a Chinese company that said it held the trademark for the word iPad.
Patent infringement lawsuits are a recurring theme in the voice tech space. The highest-profile example is likely the lawsuit Sonos filed against Google for patent infringement in January, alleging that Google’s smart speakers use Sonos patents without permission or licensing. Sonos’ CEO has testified to Congress to that point, alleging that tech giants like Amazon and Google are unfairly pressuring companies to limit competition, including by infringing on patents. Then, in June, Google countersued, raising the stakes for any eventual trial even more. Amazon is facing similar issues with Alexa, having been sued for patent infringement by Flexiworld recently, although in that case, the plaintiff is a patent-holding company, not a rival tech developer. Questionable patent lawsuits also plague smaller companies, like Mycroft.ai, which is being sued by a company claiming its open-source AI infringes on its patents, although it has no product itself. Where the fight between Apple and Xiao-i falls on the scale of patent infringement legal cases is nebulous right now, but with the Chinese market potentially at stake, Apple is probably going to take it more seriously than other complaints.