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Viber appeals S. Korean court ruling on patent feud with SK Telecom

Global mobile messenger provider Viber said Monday it will appeal a South Korean court ruling that may ban its local operation, signaling a protracted battle with South Korea's No. 1 mobile carrier, SK Telecom Co.

"Because Viber believes the court's decision was made in error, it is appealing the court's ruling and anticipates the appeal will show that Viber's technology does not infringe SK Telecom's patent," the company said in a statement.

 "We won the other three and will be appealing this one as well," Talmon Marco, the CEO and founder of Viber, told Yonhap News Agency, noting the South Korean court ruled against the company on only one patent out of the four claimed by SK Telecom.

The messenger provider's move came as the Seoul Central District Court of South Korea ruled on Feb. 23 that Viber infringed on an SK Telecom patent and that the company should not distribute its application in the South Korean market.

In the lawsuit filed last year, SK Telecom claimed that one of Viber's features, which reorganizes selected information from contact numbers saved in a smartphone in the application, violates the copyright it registered in 2006.

Viber said the patent in question is "the same technology used by many over-the-top" applications.

"Viber continues to assert that it does not infringe the patent and that the claim is invalid. The claim in question uses well-known technology invented long before SK Telecom applied to register it," it said. 

Last year, Marco argued that SK Telecom's move is aimed at stopping companies such as Viber and Kakao Talk from operating and to force all Korean users back to short-message services. The mobile carrier denies the accusations, saying the lawsuit is for the protection of its technology.

Meanwhile, Daum Kakao Corp., the operator of Kakao Talk, said it is taking a wait-and-see stance on the ongoing issue, adding that it is too early to give any response.

SK Telecom was not immediately available for comment.

Viber currently has some 360 million users in 193 countries, with services being provided in 38 languages, including English, Hebrew, Japanese and Korean. The service provider was acquired by Japan-based online retailer Rakuten Corp. last year for US$900 million. (Yonhap)

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