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Talk of the Day -- Taiwanese university sues Apple over Siri

2012/07/30 23:05:27

National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple Inc., claiming that the U.S. consumer electronics giant's use of Siri on the iPhone and (future) iPad infringed two of its patents relating to speech recognition.

The lawsuit, the first of its kind filed by a Taiwanese university against Apple, was formally lodged July 27 with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, a university spokesman said Monday.

"We found in March that Siri's voice recognition capabilities might have infringed on professor Wang Jhing-fa's patent rights in the field," said Yama Chen, legal manager of the university's Technology Transfer and Business Incubation Center.

According to Chen, NCKU decided to sue Apple after a U.S. law firm said the university stood a good chance of winning the suit.

Because international patent suits tend to be very costly, Chen said the university had reached a deal with the U.S. law firm to keep its legal costs in check.

Under the deal, the U.S. firm will foot the legal bill if the university loses the suit, but if NCKU wins, the U.S. lawyers will be given a percentage of any award. They would also get a cut if the university and Apple reach an out-of-court settlement.

Chen said the university would demand damages or a settlement based on Apple's market share or sales.

NCKU President Hwung Hwung-hweng said Taiwanese companies have often been sued by their U.S. counterparts over alleged patent infringements because of poor cooperation between local academia and industry.

Hwung speculated that Apple may have infringed professor Wang's patents because it was unaware they existed.

"It's now up to the court to decide whether we succeed," he added.

The following are excerpts from a special report on the NCKU patent suit against Apple in the Monday edition of the United Daily News:

Wang Jhing-fa, a chair and distinguished professor at the NCKU's Department of Electrical Engineering, said Taiwan must attach great importance to intellectual property rights (IPR) protection if it wants to further develop its high-tech industry.

It came as a surprise to Wang that he has become the protagonist of a patent suit against Apple.

Wang has been dedicated to speech recognition for 30 years and owns nearly 20 patents in the field.

"I just focus on research and has never bother to think about IPR issues. If our university legal personnel had not carefully screened patents owned by our faculty members, we could not have discovered Apple's possible infringement into our patents," he explained.

In 2005, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted a patent for the "method and system for matching speech data" to Wang and two of his students -- Lin Po-chuan and Wen Li-chang.

Wang said the method and system can be used to determine the similarity between an input speech data and a sample speech data.

In 2007, the trio won another patent, named "speech recognition" system.

The NCKU filing against Apple states that the 2005 patent is generally directed to a system used to determine the similarity between an input speech data and sample speech data on a touch device, such as smartphone or tablet.

The words 'smartphone' or 'tablet' don't appear in the first patent. Yet the heart of the patent infringement suit is really about how the iPhone and (future) iPad use the voice activated assistant capabilities of Siri, the filing said.

To make this absolutely clear, the NCKU filed a second count of patent infringement against Apple using the 2007 patent titled "speech recognition system."

The filing states that the 2007 patent is generally directed to a complete speech recognition system having a training button and a recognition button, and the whole system uses the application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) architecture for the design, and also uses the modular design to divide the speech processing into 4 modules: system control module, autocorrelation and kinear predictive coefficient module, cepstrum module, and DTW recognition module as used with the with a device, such as smartphone or tablet.

In both counts, the filing states that to the extent that facts learned in discovery show that Apple's infringement of their patents have been willful, the university reserves the right to request such a finding at time of trial. Willful infringement usually translates to requesting the court to triple the amount of the actual/compensatory damages. (July 30, 2012).

(By Sofia Wu)