Google Evades Question About Software Similarities

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Google Inc. has commented on a new software tool it released in China this week, although it did not address allegations that the software bears more than a passing resemblance to a rival's product.

"Two days ago we launched our Chinese Pinyin Input Method Editor (IME) as a test product in Google Labs. Based on feedback from users and our own testing, we made a number of updates to the product this morning. Like all Labs releases our IME product is a work in progress, and we expect to continue to improve it over time," Google said via email on Friday.

Google China released its Pinyin Input Method Editor (IME), earlier this week. Pinyin is a romanization system for Chinese characters, and IME software allows users to enter Chinese characters by typing their Pinyin equivalents on a standard QWERTY keyboard.

Soon after its release, some users began to notice similarities between the dictionary used with Google's IME and a popular offering from Chinese rival Sohu.com Inc.'s Sogou search engine. The similarities, which included an error involving the name of a celebrity, were noted on a Google Labs discussion board about its Pinyin IME.

Users noted that entering the Pinyin "pinggong" into the Google IME incorrectly produced the name of Feng Gong, an actor and comedian. Despite Google saying it had updated the software, the error appeared not to have been corrected as of Friday afternoon in Beijing.

Sohu.com has not commented officially and a representative could not be reached for comment by telephone Friday. However, a source indicated Thursday that the company had been reviewing Google's product and taking note of the similarities, raising the possibility that it could take legal action.

Sogou's IME software and dictionary draw on the company's database of popular search terms to suggest names and words. As a result, Sohu has patents in several areas related to how popular Internet search terms can be used for predictive text input.

(Sumner Lemon in Singapore contributed to this report.)

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