Rival Asks Google to Yank 'Copycat' Application

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Chinese Internet company Sohu.com has asked Google to stop distributing a product that allegedly copies portions of Sohu's Sogou Pinyin Input Method Editor (IME) software.

Deadline Set

The Sohu request came in the form of a letter sent to Google's Beijing office on Friday, giving the company three days -- until Monday -- to comply with Sohu's requests and stop downloads of the Google Pinyin IME software.

"We have requested they stop offering the software for download as quickly as possible. The second request is they make an apology, and the third is to discuss compensation for Sohu," said Wang Xiaochuan, Sohu's vice president of technology and head of the company's research and development center, in a telephone interview.

Google China executives, who are understood to be discussing the matter internally, had not responded to Sohu's letter by Saturday evening local time and Google's Pinyin IME remained available for download. A Google China spokesperson acknowledged receipt of an e-mail request for comment, but had not responded at the time of writing.

When Sohu's concerns first became public, Google noted that its software is still being tested, but did not address the accusation directly.

If Google doesn't meet the letter's deadline, the next step for Sohu will be to "follow the normal course of legal proceedings," Wang said.

Converting Characters--and More

Pinyin is a romanization system for Chinese characters. The Sogou Pinyin IME, released in June 2006, allows Internet users to type Chinese characters by entering their Pinyin equivalents. As they type, the software suggests possible matches for words and names, which are drawn from a dictionary that is part of the IME software.

Unlike IMEs from other companies, such as Microsoft, the dictionary of words and names used with Sohu's IME software is partly based on a database of popular Internet search terms compiled by its Sogou search engine. This dictionary lies at the heart of Sohu's allegations against Google.

"We were surprised to find that Google was using Sohu's dictionary," Wang said, noting that Sohu holds copyrights for its dictionary. "We have never made this dictionary public or licensed anybody to use it."

Several mistakes that exist in the Sohu dictionary, along with the names of several Sohu employees that were added to the dictionary, have been found in the dictionary used with Google's Pinyin IME.

For instance, Google's software requires users to enter the wrong Pinyin, 'pinggong,' to get the characters for the name of Feng Gong, a popular actor and comedian. Typing the correct Pinyin does not yield the actor's name. The same error exists in a version of Sohu's software.

Early Concerns

Sohu became aware of these similarities shortly after Google announced on April 4 that its IME software was available for download. When engineers discovered that Google's dictionary contained their own names, that was the first hint that something was amiss with Google's dictionary.

"The probability of these names appearing is very low. If we had not inserted them, then they would not be in our database," Wang said. "Google's database is even more unlikely to have them,"

Wang noted these names appear to have been removed from Google's software since its launch several days ago. However, at the time of writing, the common Pinyin errors identified in the Google software by Sohu had not been removed.

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