Mobike co-founder sues Q&A site Zhihu for defamation

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Mobike co-founder Hu Weiwei is suing the operators of Q&A website Zhihu (知乎) for defamation after a user on the site claimed Mobike staff were involved in corruption. This comes just days after a corruption scandal at main rival ofo and forms part of a growing trend of tech company litigation in China.

On May 9, Hu Weiwei discovered that an anonymous Zhihu user was claiming that Hu, along with Mobike CEO Wang Xiaofeng and CTO Joe Xia were getting kickbacks of RMB 100 per bike from a factory in Wuxi and, given the factory produced 3.65 million bikes the previous month, the C-suite had received RMB 360 million, after previously sharing kickbacks during Spring Festival. The factory owner is also alleged to have been on the receiving end of RMB 20 million.

Zhihu message
Allegations by an anonymous user on Zhihu which prompted the litigation (Image credit: UC头条)

According to a statement released by Haidian District People’s Court in Beijing on May 18, it had recently received a request by Mobike co-founder Hu Weiwei to take Beijing Zhizhe Tianxi Keji Company, which operates Zhihu, to court for damage to her reputation and that of her company.

The court said that Hu considers the allegations to be “groundless rumors and a slanderous plot,” that her and the company’s names were “irreparably damaged,” and that she demanded the defendant’s identity be revealed and compensation of RMB 100,000 paid. No further details about dates have been provided.

Tech companies leading the exercise of legal rights

A similar scandal broke for ofo via a recommendation conversation in LinkedIn-like Maimai (脉脉), but the company has not looked to blame the site. The Mobike co-founder’s action against Quora-like Zhihu is only the most recent case of a tech company (or founder in this instance) going to the courts to assert its rights over reputation, patents, revenue streams and even sounds. Chinese patent litigation in particular is becoming an increasingly active industry in its own right. And not just in China, but around the world.

Qihoo 360 has filed for various patent infringements, including the first case for graphic user interface design. Music streaming sites have been on a veritable merry-go-round of lawsuits over the exclusivity of tracks. The tech companies’ video arms have taken up the litigation baton as they pay ever larger amounts to license content domestically and internationally. Last February, LeEco even sued Baidu for stripping its content Leshi ads when watched through Baidu’s video app.

Hangzhou Chic Intelligent (杭州骑客智能科技) filed a case against Razor USA in a California court in May 2016 for importing other hover boards from China to sell in the US that infringed its intellectual property rights there.

Back in China, Tencent has even sued the country’s Trademark Review and Adjudication Board after it rejected the trademark application for the sonic branding of QQ notifications. The Board described it as “simple and not creative.”

Let’s just hope that if anyone brings a case agains Alibaba in their native Zhejiang province, that the voice recognition software it has supplied for transcribing hearings isn’t preprogrammed to skew the proceedings.