A U.S. software maker sued China and seven major computer makers Tuesday alleging piracy of its Internet filtering software.
Cybersitter LLC, whose software is designed to help parents filter content seen by children, seeks $2.2 billion in damages in the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The company alleges that the Chinese copied its codes and incorporated them into software used to block Chinese citizens' access to sites deemed politically undesirable by the government. Seven computer manufacturers, including Sony, Lenovo, and Toshiba, also were sued for distributing the Chinese program with PCs sold in the country.
"I don't think I have ever seen such clear-cut stealing," said attorney Gregory Fayer, who represents Santa Barbara-based Cybersitter.
He said the alleged piracy was discovered by a university researcher who posted a report on Internet filtering programs online.
Fayer said Chinese software makers appeared to have downloaded the program from the Cybersitter server and copied more than 3,000 lines of code, then incorporated it into their program, Green Dam Youth Escort.
"They did a sloppy job of copying," said Fayer, noting that they included directions on how to get to the Cybersitter site.
Last year, the Chinese government issued an order requiring computer manufacturers to pre-install or supply "Green Dam Youth Escort" software with PCs made for sale in China.
China later backed down after a major outcry from Chinese citizens and computer companies. Although Chinese authorities had said the "Green Dam" system is needed to block access to violent and obscene material, analysts who reviewed the program say it also filters out material the government considers politically objectionable.
The lawsuit says that while the mandate was reversed, the computer makers continued to distribute Green Dam with its computers in China even after learning the software was pirated.
Those named in the lawsuit were Sony, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, AsusteK, BenQ and Haier.
The complaint alleges misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, copyright infringement and conspiracy. It also claims the Chinese software makers broke U.S. criminal laws governing economic espionage.
Fayer said that none of the defendants had been served with the lawsuit yet.
A Lenovo spokeswoman said by e-mail that the company was unable to comment on pending litigation.
Taiwan's BenQ Corp. said in an e-mailed statement, that the company had not been notified of the lawsuit and could not comment. Acer Inc. also declined comment. AsusteK did not immediately respond to efforts seeking comment.
Representatives for Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. and China's Haier Group did not immediately respond to e-mailed questions.
The chief executive of one of the Chinese software makers being sued, Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer System Engineering, did not answer calls. Representatives at another Chinese software maker named in the lawsuit, Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy, were not available.
Fayer said Cybersitter, a family-owned company, is seeking damages for royalties due on its product, which sells for $39.95 a copy. He said the case could be "a watershed for the protection of American intellectual property internationally."
"We don't make many widgets anymore," he said. "What we have to offer the world is our ingenuity and creativity, our ideas and what lawyers call intellectual property. From small companies like Cybersitter to Microsoft to motion pictures and the music industry, these are the products we have to offer the world. It is important that they be protected."
Associated Press researcher Bonnie Cao in Beijing, AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo and Associated Press Writer Peter Enav in Taipei contributed to this report.