China's Xiaomi will strengthen IP ahead of U.S. entry: executive

BEIJING (Reuters) - Fast-growing Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc is strengthening its patents in preparation for its entry into the U.S. market, head of international operations Hugo Barra told Bloomberg Television on Thursday, without offering a time table.

A man uses his mobile phone in front of a screen showing a logo of Xiaomi in Beijing, January 15, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The company has already encountered intellectual property hurdles in India, where a patent infringement complaint from telecom equipment giant Ericsson briefly halted sales of its handsets late last year.

Xiaomi executives have acknowledged that the five-year old startup’s thin portfolio is a major weakness, and the company has avoided entering markets with strong IP law enforcement.

Former Google Inc executive Barra told Bloomberg TV in San Francisco that Xiaomi phones would not land on U.S. shores for “potentially much more than a year”.

Barra said the maker of the Mi Note and Mi Note Pro smartphones would continue to build on its 2,000-patent war chest, which is dwarfed by the IP portfolios held by major international players, and Xiaomi would “meticulously talk to everyone” to hammer out licensing agreements.

The company is valued at $45 billion by private investors on the belief that it could sweep through the world with its stylish, iPhone-like devices which sell for half the price.

In recent months however it has encountered a rapid slowdown in China - where consumers are buying less phones due to market saturation - heightening the urgency for it to expand overseas into new markets like India and Brazil.

Barra also brushed aside Apple Inc design chief Jonathan Ive’s criticism that Xiaomi’s design amounted to “theft,” saying Ive’s sentiment reflected widespread bias against Chinese companies.

“So this whole copycat melodrama all boils down to one chamfered edge on one particular phone model, which was Mi 4, which people said looked like the iPhone 5,” Barra said.

“And I’ve been the first one to admit it. Yes, it does look like the iPhone 5. And that chamfered edge, by the way, is present in so many other devices.

“It was in many ways people projecting their bias against Chinese onto us. People couldn’t bring themselves to believe a Chinese company actually could be a world innovator, could build amazing high-quality products.”

Editing by Stephen Coates