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Apple in Chinese court over patent rights for Siri

Cupertino's troubles worsen in China

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A Chinese court has heard claims that Apple's Siri personal assistant infringes a patent owned by a local firm that makes similar voice-activated software for both iOS and Android, in just the latest setback for Cupertino in the country.

Shanghai's Zhizhen Network Technology Co. first patented its "Xiao i Robot" software in 2004, three years before Siri made her rather troubled (but heavily marketed) entrance into the market. Zinzhen claims more than 100 million users in China for the software, in a wide variety of industries.

"The company will ask Apple to stop manufacturing and selling products using its patent rights, once Apple's infringement is confirmed," Si Weijiang, a lawyer representing Zhizhen, told AFP. "We don't exclude the possibility of demanding compensation in the future."

Apple is having a few problems in China at the moment. Siri got the company into trouble for telling Chinese users where they could find the illicit delights of pornography and prostitution. That problem is now fixed, but Cupertino continues to have issues in the country.

It has already had to pay out $60m to Chinese firm Proview Technology over the local vendor's claims that it owned the iPad trademark in China. Meanwhile, the iPhone 5 isn’t selling particularly well, yet Apple has denied plans for a budget iPhone for the Middle Kingdom's middle classes (though such plans remain frequently rumored).

In the last few weeks, Cupertino has also come under increasing criticism in the local media over its business practices. Students have been warned about taking out expensive loans for Apple hardware, and the People's Daily, the official organ for the Communist Party, carried articles slamming Apple for three straight days last week.

The full patent trial in the Zhizhen case is scheduled to be heard in July, Zhizhen spokeswoman Mei Li told AFP. "We surely have confidence, our lawyers also told us they have confidence, but of course we will have to see how the judge will rule." ®

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