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Apple throws sueball at China's patent office over Siri clone

What happens when the immovable government meets the irresistible gadget-maker?

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Apple has decided to take on the might of the Chinese government over an on-going Siri patent dispute by throwing a sueball at the State Intellectual Property Office and a Shanghai-based technology firm.

Cupertino decided on the lawsuit after it failed to declare Zhizhen Network Technology’s patent for Siri-like voice assistant technology invalid, according to an AFP report citing Xinhua.

Zhizhen filed against Apple in July 2012 after failing to hear back from the US giant over a claim that Siri infringed a patent for its IM chat bot system, “Xiaoi Bot”, which was approved in China in early 2004.

The two parties met in a Shanghai court last year with Zhizhen demanding that Apple stop making and selling Siri-based products, however a final ruling was never handed down.

During that case Apple’s lawyers maintained that although the two products are designed to perform similar tasks they employ different underlying technology. However, Xiaoi Bot’s patent was approved years before Siri made an appearance.

With Apple’s latest move the two will meet again, this time in Beijing Number One Intermediate People's Court on Thursday, and with the added spice of the Chinese government’s IP office also in the dock.

It’s virtually impossible that the court would rule against the government on this one, although some kind of compromise may be on the cards depending on how anti-Apple the Communist Party is feeling.

The rhetoric against foreign technology firms in China has certainly moved up a notch in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA spying revelations.

Qualcomm has been the most notable victim so far, having been placed at the centre of an antitrust enquiry which could end up costing the chip giant over $1 billion in fines.

Apple is no stranger to the Chinese court room but has so far only really been backed into a corner once, when it was forced to hand over around $60m (£38m) in a settlement with Shenzhen firm Proview over the rights to use the IPAD name in China.

Apple doesn't comment on ongoing legal disputes. ®

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