Baidu and Alibaba clash over design theft as the two vie for top spot in smart speaker shipments

A legal dispute might follow as Alibaba has filed a patent on its design.

Photo: provided to company

Immediately after Baidu unveiled a smart speaker called Xiaodu Play, Li Jianye, the chief designer for Alibaba’s AI lab, took to his personal Sina Weibo social media account to say that the Baidu product merely copied Tmall Genie Fangtang R, a smart speaker launched by his lab.

Alibaba and Baidu are currently locked in a head-to-head and still undecided battle over market leadership in China’s smart speaker segment, which makes this tussle particularly spicy.

To prove his point, Li Jianye shared photos of each speaker showing how two microphones were arranged in each, with six additional holes for decoration.

His followers were divided on the matter, with some saying the two speakers were alike, while others claimed double microphones and mute holes are common elements for designers to use.

Baidu has not respond to KrAsia‘s request for an official comment, but a source within Baidu’s Smart Living Group, which developed the Xiaodu Play, told KrAsia that Tmall Genie’s attack on Xiaodu Play is ridiculous as Baidu had its own designers for this smart speaker.

“Baidu has been the top smart speaker vendor in China. We hope that we will not be attacked maliciously just because we are the No.1. There is a lot of room in this industry. Market players need to think of how best to grow the market, rather than thinking about how to drag the competitors down,” the source said.

Photo: Tmall Genie Fangtang R smart speaker, provided to KrAsia

Alibaba, when contacted by KrAsia on Friday, did not comment on the matter, either.

A source close to Alibaba’s AI lab told KrAsia on Friday that Alibaba has filed a patent to protect the entire design of the Tmall Genie Fangtang R from being copied.

The source did not disclose whether the patent had been granted but insisted that, legally, the design will be protected from the date of the application.

A legal expert told KrAsia on Friday that if the patent is granted, the protection does start from the filing date. If that application is denied, there is no protection at all.

The competition between Baidu’s and Alibaba’s smart speaker products is very tight.

Data from market research firm Canalys shows that Baidu shipped 3.3 million smart speakers in the first quarter of 2019, dethroning Alibaba’s Tmall Genie, whose shipments hit 3.2 million. Meanwhile data from IDC shows that Alibaba and Baidu tied in the same quarter, shipping 3.4 million units each.

The entire shipment of smart speakers in the country of 11.2 million units in the first quarter represented a 787.2% year-on-year growth and indicated that they are as popular as personal computers and smart TVs but they still lag behind smartphones, according to IDC.