On July 2, 2013, Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court held a public hearing of a patent infringement case in which Zhizhen Technology Inc of Shanghai sued Apple Inc and Apple Computer Trading (Shanghai) Co Ltd. The alleged infringing item in the dispute is Siri, the intelligent chatting system installed on many Apple products, such as the iPhone 4S and iPad.

Zhizhen claimed that the defendants infringed Chinese patent No.200410053749.9, entitled a Chatting Robot System, filed on August 13, 2004 and granted on July 22, 2009. This patent was initially filed in the name of Shanghai Incesoft Co Ltd and later assigned to Zhizhen. A patented product has been marketed in China as the ‘little i robot’.

As of January 2012, Apple started selling products containing Siri in China. The plaintiff Zhizhen held that the Siri system installed on the iPhone 4S and iPad uses the patented technology and its technical solution falls within the scope of the claims of Chinese patent No.200410053749.9. Zhizhen requested the court to order Apple Inc to stop making, selling and using the infringing products and Apple Computer Trading (Shanghai) to stop selling and using the infringing products.

During the court hearing, Zhizhen showed that Siri and ‘little i robot’ produced the same results by connecting a Siri client and a ‘little i robot’ client to the ‘little i robot’ server and inputting the same information. It was also reported that during the court hearing, Zhizhen also provided an infringement judiciary appraisal report, which was done by experts and concluded infringement of the patent in question.

However, Apple claimed that Siri is a form of intelligent assistant, which helps users with their daily tasks, whereas the ‘little i robot’ is a robot that deals with chatting and games, and that the two systems are completely different in essence. Apple further argued that the claims of the patent in question comprises parts such as an intelligent server, query server and game server, which were not present in Siri, and that Siri has only a single server. Therefore, Siri does not have all the features of the claims and does not fall in the scope of the claims.

Apple also questioned the infringement judiciary appraisal report and argued that it was done by computer experts who are not IP experts and that the ‘black box’ method used to show the two systems work in the same way was not proper.

Apple further alleged that the claims of the patent in question were not clear as to its protection scope and it was reported that Apple filed an invalidation request with the Patent Re-examination Board (PRB) in November 2012 which requested the PRB to declare the Chinese patent No.200410053749.9 invalid. According to Chinese practice, infringement and validity are handled separately. As in this case, the infringement case is in Shanghai and the validity is at the PRB which is located in Beijing, and the PRB’s decision is appealable to courts in Beijing.

It was reported that because of the complexity of the case, the investigation of its facts did not finish after a full day of court hearing and that the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court would hear the case again on another date.

Patent applications soar

In the first half of 2013, the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) received 1.012 million patent application, representing an 18.1 percent increase from the same period in 2012. This includes 316,000 invention patent applications, 397,000 utility model patent applications and 299,000 design patent applications, an increase of 22.5 percent, 25.6 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively. Among all invention patent applications, 81 percent were filed by domestic applicants and 19 percent were filed by foreign applicants; the figures increased 27.4 percent and 5.3 percent from last year, respectively.