Google may soon find itself in a legal soup in China as top managers from Sohu.com yesterday said the US Internet giant's Chinese input method violated its patent rights, for which it can be sued.
"Google did not just steal the product dictionary, it violated the intellectual property rights of the revolutionary inventions used in our input method product," said Charles Zhang, CEO of Sohu.com, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese portal.
"It's a disgrace for a US company which takes pride in its respect for intellectual property rights. We will launch a lawsuit against them anytime," Zhang said.
On April 4, Google launched its own Chinese input method editor software called Guge Pinyin. It was found to be surprisingly similar to Sougou Pinyin released by Sohu.com in June 2006.
Similarities were found in the product dictionary that enables users to write in Chinese characters by typing in their pinyin equivalents.
Google admitted on Monday that "it did include some data source that don't belong to Google in the trial period of the product" and "felt sorry for its users and Sohu.com". But the company also said it had finished the latest upgrade of its product and the latest version of the dictionary was based on Google's own database.
Zhang said that although Google has made some changes in its dictionary, there are sill "70 percent similarities" between the two products.
"Google's problem is far more than a matter of dictionary similarity," he said. "They copied our idea and violated the rights of our technology inventions, which were first used in the input method editor software."
Sohu.com said it had started patent applications for the key technologies before it released its Sougou Pinyin last year. Four patent applications were already in the notice period by the end of last year and another dozen will enter the notice period this year, according to Wang Xiaochuan, Sohu.com's vice-president.
But Yu Guofu, chief lawyer of Sam Partners Law Firm, said Sohu.com is unlikely to file a lawsuit soon since the company has not yet been granted any patents.
"Sohu.com's technology will be protected by the law only after it is granted a patent," he said. "Its applications have come in the notice period, during which disagreements and criticisms are welcomed."
Yu said that during the six-month notice period, anyone can cast doubt on an application. This is followed by a lengthy legal process, which can last several years before a patent is granted.
(China Daily April 11, 2007)