Apple defends Siri in Shanghai courtroom

China may soon become a top source of legal headaches, as well as market opportunities. Wednesday, the iPhone maker begins a defense of its Siri software against a Chinese company’s claim the voice-activated personal assistant violates its 2004 patent. Zhizhen Network Technology Co. filed its lawsuit against Apple last summer and today the two firms meet for a pre-trial hearing in a Shanghai court.

According to Zhizhen, its “Xiao i Robot” software was patented before Apple developed Siri in 2007 and unveiled as part of the iPhone 4S in 2011. The Shanghai-based firm is asking the court to halt Apple making and selling products using Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant feature available on newer iPhones and iPads…

Although the case is not scheduled until July, a Zhizhen spokeswoman told AFP that “We surely have confidence” in the outcome.

The company’s lawyer held out the potential that Apple might pay a licensing fee to use the technology. In 2012, Apple paid $60 million to use the “iPad” trademark in China after Shenzhen Proview Technology objected to the U.S. company’s tablet marketing.

Following that settlement, Apple experienced an upswing in demand for the iPad by Chinese consumers.

Siri promo video (Woman asks for weather)

While Apple has become a frequent target for trademark lawsuits as the iPhone and iPad brand expands its international presence, the court battle surrounding the Siri technology may not be as cut-and-dried as Zhizhen claims.

The court likely will face voice-recognition patents held by Nuance, Apple’s partner in developing the voice-recognition software. Apple of course has always been a magnet for similar trademark lawsuits, even more so following its wild successes with iOS-powered mobile gizmos.

Along with China, a Mexican firm is disputing Apple’s right to use the iPhone trademark. To make matters worse, a company in Brazil – which makes an Android-based smartphone – has challenged the iPhone moniker as well.

The factors likely in common: Apple’s deep pockets and a strong desire to expand the products’ availability.

In the case of Siri, itself, the court challenge in China isn’t the first time someone has disputed Apple’s use of the software. Last year, Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University sued Apple, claiming Siri’s dictation function violated two patents.

Do you think Apple will prevail in this fresh case involving China’s Xiao i Robot?