The peculiar story of Google's humbling in China this week has been receiving strangely low levels of coverage in the Western media. Whether that's because the issue is difficult to understand or is for reasons unknown, the issue could have an impact on the search engine's drive to win over the Middle Kingdom's internet users.

In a nutshell, Google has been forced to apologise for copying the proprietary work of a Chinese firm without permission in a recent Chinese-language software release. The work in question was a dictionary belonging to Sohu.com that is used for inputting Chinese characters using a QWERTY keyboard.

Errors replicated by Google

The dictionary was provided for public download by Google as part of its version of a Chinese Input Method Editor ( IME ) and contained Chinese interpretations of combinations of Roman alphabet letters that make up the pinyin method of typing Chinese using the 26 Western characters.

Sohu discovered the violation when the 'Google' dictionary showed identical errors to its own and even featured the names of several Sohu staff who had compiled the dictionary, including their own names as they went along.

Although Google claims to have made an honest mistake, the public climb-down and admission of guilt is unlikely to win it any friends as it plays catch-up with Chinese search-engine leader Baidu.com .