Chinese AI Company Seeks to Block Apple’s iPhone Sales Ahead of New Device Launch

By Alex Wu
Alex Wu
Alex Wu
Alex Wu is a U.S.-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on Chinese society, Chinese culture, human rights, and international relations.
September 10, 2021 Updated: September 12, 2021

Just days ahead of Apple’s launch of the iPhone 13, a Chinese artificial intelligence company is seeking an injunction that would block Apple’s iPhone production and sales in China over a patent dispute involving digital personal assistant Siri.

Shanghai Zhizhen Intelligent Network Technology, also known as Xiao-i Robot, filed an application with the Shanghai Higher People’s Court on Sept. 3, requesting a preliminary injunction to block Apple’s manufacture, sales, and exports of all devices with Siri in China, claiming infringement on its patent.

On Sept. 6, the Shanghai Higher People’s Court confirmed that it had received Xiao-i Robot’s application and that it’s currently under review.

The injunction request follows the Chinese company’s lawsuit against Apple filed in August 2020, seeking compensation of 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) for damages caused by alleged patent infringement.

Xiao-i Robot began its legal battles with Apple over Siri in 2012. The Chinese company claims that it invented a virtual intelligent assistant and submitted a patent application in 2004. The company then obtained a Chinese patent for its invention in 2009. The scope of its patent protection includes a chat robot system that can conduct dialogue in natural language and provide information. Its patent was awarded before Apple’s first use of Siri in its iPhone 4 in 2011, according to the South China Morning Post.

Epoch Times Photo
Apple’s Phil Schiller talks about Siri during an announcement at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2011. Apple’s Siri made a big splash when the wisecracking digital assistant debuted in 2011. (Paul Sakuma/AP Photo)

Siri, Apple’s digital voice assistant, is currently deployed on the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple Watch, and the HomePod mini.

In June 2012, Xiao-i Robot filed an infringement lawsuit in the Shanghai court against Apple over the chat robot patent. In November of the same year, Apple filed a request for invalidation of the Xiao-i Robot’s patent with China’s Patent Reexamination Board of the State Intellectual Property Office. The board ruled that the patent was valid.

Apple then filed a lawsuit against the patent ruling in the Beijing Higher People’s Court. In 2013, Apple won the lawsuit and the Beijing court ruled that Xiao-i Robot’s patent was invalid. Xiao-i Robot appealed the decision to China’s Supreme People’s Court.

In June 2020, the Supreme People’s Court ruled that Xiao-i Robot’s patent was valid, but didn’t grant an injunction to stop Apple’s production and sales of devices that included Siri.

In August 2020, Xiao-i Robot filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple, seeking 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) in damages.

Apple released a statement at that time: “Siri does not contain features included in their [Xiao-i Robot] patent, which relates to games and instant messaging. … Independent appraisers certified by the Supreme People’s Court have also concluded that Apple does not infringe Xiao-i Robot’s technology.”

Regarding the new injunction, Yuan Hui, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Xiao-i Robot, published a statement on the company’s Chinese social media WeChat account.

Apple continues to manufacture and sell products regardless of the facts of infringement,” he said. “It is not a practice of respecting intellectual property rights. Apple should immediately stop infringement, remove and stop selling the related products.” 

If the injunction is granted, it would cause a huge loss for Apple, as the majority of its Asian supply chain is in China, including the world’s largest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou. The supply chain produces an estimated 90 million units of the iPhone 13, according to the SCMP.

Apple is scheduled to launch its iPhone 13 at an online event on Sept. 14.

Apple officials didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Alex Wu
Alex Wu is a U.S.-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on Chinese society, Chinese culture, human rights, and international relations.