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iPod Faces Patent Probe 203

Posted by Zonk
from the confusion-in-white-plastic dept.
twofish writes "The long running patent spat between Apple and the struggling Creative Technology took another turn today. Creative is claiming that the US International Trade Commission (ITC) has now launched a probe into the possibility that the iPod infringes on Creative's patents. Creative has asked the ITC to issue an order stopping Apple from marketing, selling or importing iPods into the US."
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iPod Faces Patent Probe

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  • Patently Nonsense (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wavicle (181176)
    A patent on a music player navigation menu?!

    I guess it is completely non-obvious and innovative that a portable music player would need a menu to navigate through its songs.

    I must be brilliant because that requirement seemed pretty obvious to me.
    • Suddenly I feel so lucky nobody has patented winamp's playback buttons yet.
    • Re:Patently Nonsense (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CaymanIslandCarpedie (868408) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:33PM (#15542744) Journal
      While I agree and hate patents, its worth mentioning that almost everytime anyone here on /. asks what makes the iPod any better than other players, they always rave about how easy and smooth the control interface is and because of that Apple is the one who "really gets it", etc, etc. If it turns out Creative had and patented this first, it is certainly at least of value. I still would think its a stupid patent, but most iPod fans I know when asked why always rave about the "innovative" control interface and how easy it make things. Of course, now those same people will say its simple and no big deal. Go figure.
      • Re:Patently Nonsense (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Builder (103701) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:53PM (#15542937)
        If Creative have the patent on this, why does the management of music and navigation on their devices suck so hard? If they patented all this goodness, why didn't they implement it ?
        • Good question, sir, and I have the answer for you right behind this red curtain!

          *drumroll*

          *curtain rises*

          Creative couldn't compete with Apple, so they're doing the next best thing--litigation! Didn't you know, Creative retroactively invented NeXTStep's column view?
      • by mehlkelm (980439)
        Creatice patented the hierarchical menues, which are trivial. The iPod is easy to use because of the wheel (and the lack of other buttons except play, stop, next, previous). The not so easy to use players also need some sort of hierarchical menues to navigate music (how else could it work?)
      • While I agree and hate patents, its worth mentioning that almost everytime anyone here on /. asks what makes the iPod any better than other players, they always rave about how easy and smooth the control interface is and because of that Apple is the one who "really gets it", etc, etc

        Creative certainly didn't invent the 'hierarchical menu'. Nor were they the first to use it to make selections in a "device".

        Office phone handsets, POS boxes (for swiping credit/debit cards), clock radios, home theatre amplifier
      • While I agree and hate patents, its worth mentioning that almost everytime anyone here on /. asks what makes the iPod any better than other players, they always rave about how easy and smooth the control interface is and because of that Apple is the one who "really gets it", etc, etc

        I'm the opposite of you. I don't hate patents "as such", some of them are valuable, some of them are stupid. I agree with the general opinion that Apple is the one who "really gets it" but I don't think that Apple's edge actu
    • What's really obvious to me is how this will cause some people to go out and buy an ipod before they "disappear" from the shelves. (not that it will actually happen).

      I believe this will only be good for Apple.

      Heh.

      Raydude
    • While it may seem obvious now (given how ubiquitous HD-based digital music players are now), there was a time when MP3 players did not have navigation menus. I have owned a few MP3 players and a MP3CD player, none of which displayed any information more than the song number, and the only buttons available were play/pause, stop, previous, and next.

      (The MP3 players in question were a SoulMate and a Rio 600. The SoulMate was a piece of junk with poor audio quality and connected to the computer via parallel c
      • While I don't specifically know much about the Rio-600, this review [technoyard.com] seems to show functionality sufficient to violate the creative patent. Some of the ID3 data is being pulled out of the file.
        • My mistake, The Rio 600 did display ID3 data. The SoulMate [dooyoo.co.uk], did not however. Displaying data from the file should not be patentable though, and there was definately not any navigational control besides next and previous.
  • by HardCase (14757) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:12PM (#15542530)
    ...sue 'em!

    -h-
  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:12PM (#15542536)
    creatives patent is a prime example of the EFF concept of "stupid patent".

    How about I patent a method of aerobic circulation by which oxygen is drawn into an organ which passes it to the bloodstream!

    seriously hundreds of posts about this in half a dozen dupe stories have pointed out so many examples of prior art it's insane.
    • "seriously hundreds of posts about this in half a dozen dupe stories have pointed out so many examples of prior art it's insane."

      Did any of these prior art examples have to do with music players? If not, then no, they don't count. Just because you saw an interface in Windows 3.1 that worked the same way doesn't mean that's patent-refuting-prior-art.

       
      • Did any of these prior art examples have to do with music players? If not, then no, they don't count.

        What if the operating system included both a file browser and a music player, and the file browser could start the music player?

        Just because you saw an interface in Windows 3.1 that worked the same way doesn't mean that's patent-refuting-prior-art.

        Windows 3.1 included both File Manager and an early version of Windows Media Player.

  • Original (Score:5, Funny)

    by chill (34294) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:13PM (#15542538) Journal
    Because with God as their witness, no one else ever thought of a portable, digital music player. It is *SO* non-obvious that it takes a special kind of certified genius to come up with ideas like a scroll wheel, buttons, earphones, and -- wait for it -- a round front panel. I mean, it is like Apple was ripping off Einstein or Newton or something. How DARE they actually know how to market a product!

    My guess is Steve Jobs will file a patent on a rectally inserted portable music player. Just to make sure the guys at Creative are aware of this, he'd be glad to demonstrate how it works on their entire legal dept over at Creative.

    • Because with God as their witness, no one else ever thought of a portable, digital music player.

      I agree. The same could be said for putting a trashcan icon on a GUI desktop designed to emulate an office work space. Mundane, obvious stuff like this shouldn't be patentable.

      • I agree. The same could be said for putting a trashcan icon on a GUI desktop designed to emulate an office work space. Mundane, obvious stuff like this shouldn't be patentable.

        I believe that was copyright, not patent, though I could be wrong. Apple lost that suit, EXCEPT for the Trash Can. The judge let them keep the Trash Can icon so they would have a place to store the rest of their stupid lawsuit.
        • I believe that was copyright, not patent, though I could be wrong.

          Yeah, you are probably right. But as far as I am concerned, it is the same concept here. Using the courts to protect rather ordinary and obvious aspects of products to artificially reduce competition -- no thanks!

        • It was a trade dress suit. And Apple would have won except that John Scully (aka Bozo) licensed the look and feel of MacOS to Microsoft specifically for use in Windows (in exchange for a magic bean!)
  • Dirty tactics... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scd (541350) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {pdttocs}> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:14PM (#15542553)
    Why do I get the feeling that Creative doesn't give a damn about the patents, but is doing this only for the chance that Apple will be prohibited from selling iPods for some time?

    Sounds like some dirty tactics to me.
  • Creative sues Sony, stating their line of CD Walkmen infringe on Creative's patented "play, pause, stop, rwd, and fwd" button technology.
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:17PM (#15542586) Homepage Journal
    IANAL, but isn't this is a normal step for the ITC to take if you're in a big patent dispute? It seems to me Creative is trumpeting it as a minor victory press releases, [creative.com] while the ITC is just following their normal procedure in gathering facts for the judge. Am I wrong?
  • If Creative can put a stop to this, then it looks like I'll have a collector's item on my hands!
  • not gonna happen (Score:5, Informative)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:19PM (#15542602)
    Creative has asked the ITC to issue an order stopping Apple from marketing, selling or importing iPods into the US

    Yeah, good luck with that one, Creative.

    For those that don't know- in civil court matters, that sort of action requires you present proof that you will suffer irreperable harm unless the court acts immediately. In other words- if your only claim is a patent violation, you're not suffering irreperable harm, because you can recover patent royalties. Proving irreperable harm has a very high standard, because it is a rather severe action. I would imagine similar standards apply at the ITC.

    • With headlines like: Price war with Apple slashes Creative's quarterly profit [thestar.com.my]
      Creative Technology Ltd, the maker of Nomad and Zen MP3 players, said yesterday its quarterly net profit plunged a worse-than-expected 72% due to a price war with Apple Computer Inc's iPod.

      That looks like harm to me.

      For the record I think the patent is BS, but (if it wasn't)this is pretty much what these injunctions are designed for.
    • Re:not gonna happen (Score:4, Informative)

      by kansas1051 (720008) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:15PM (#15543147)
      Filing complaints with the ITC (or US customs) is a common litigation trick in patent disputes. The purpose of filing with the ITC or US customs to to circumvent the legal boundaries you describe (a showing of irreparable harm, etc) to get the ITC or US customs (now part of the DHS) to issue a "de facto" injunction without the same type of adversarial situation you find in court. For example, sometimes its possible to get customs to seize imported goods even when patent infringement is doubtful.
  • by soft_guy (534437) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:22PM (#15542646)
    Most likely scenario (80% chance): Creative gets nowhere with this. They lose the case and it quickly becomes a non-issue after briefly causing a few people to worry and Apple's stock price takes a dip, then rebounds.

    Next most likely scenario (15% chance): Apple settles with Creative for an "undisclosed sum" and this becomes a non-issue after briefly causing a few people to worry and Apple's stock price takes a dip, then rebounds.

    Next most likely scenario (4.999% chance): Apple buys Creative and this becomes a non-issue after briefly causing a few people to worry and Apple's stock price takes a dip, then rebounds.

    Very unlikely scenario (less than 0.001% chance): The sun explodes, causing a dip in Apple's stock price.
  • by PFI_Optix (936301) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:25PM (#15542675) Journal
    From a related BBC article:
    Creative said it had applied for the patent, dubbed the Zen Patent, on 5 January 2001 and was awarded it on 9 August. It applies to the way music tracks are organised and navigated on a player through a hierarchy using three or more successive screens. For example, this would be a sequence of screens that could display artists, then albums and then tracks. "The first portable media player based upon the user interface covered in our Zen Patent was our Nomad Jukebox MP3 player," said Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo. "The Apple iPod was only announced in October 2001, 13 months after we had been shipping the Nomad Jukebox based upon the user interface covered by our Zen Patent."
    This isn't a patent on MP3 players or buttons or anything or FUD-related nonsense, it's a patent on a specific organizational structure in the software. Of course, it happens to be very similar to how I organize directories at home, and seems like a rather intuitive concept that a lot of people would arrive at independently.
    • Of course, it happens to be very similar to how I organize directories at home


      I wonder if Creative will give me a finders fee for reporting you! How dare you infringe on their novel and unique invention!
    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:37PM (#15542787)

      This isn't a patent on MP3 players or buttons or anything or FUD-related nonsense, it's a patent on a specific organizational structure in the software.

      No, this is a patent on organizing music in a hierarchy, but on a portable, much like patents on a dutch auction, but on the internet, or patents on blue lights, but in a car. This patent was applied for 5 days before Apple released to the public iTunes and long after other music jukebox software did this same thing. Apple, and many other companies, sold laptops with speakers. In particular, look at a Linux laptop, with a speaker, running MPlayer. Creative's case hinges on proving that their patent issued years after people were doing just that, should prevent the selling of iPods (which run Linux and use it to organize and play music in the same way). It isn't even a matter of it being obvious, it is a matter of them filing for the patent years after people were already doing this by arguing that the iPod somehow differs fundamentally from other portable computing devices.

      • I haven't seen any articles that explain in depth what the patent covers, so I can't comment on exactly how broad its scope is.

        Now, if we're talking about software which automatically parses ID3 tags and/or filenames and arranges the music accordingly, Creative might very well have been the first to do that, and it would be something of a unique innovation, even though others would certainly have arrived at the same solution independently. Windows Media Player does it as well...could the be suing Microsoft
        • I haven't seen any articles that explain in depth what the patent covers, so I can't comment on exactly how broad its scope is.

          It covers navigating songs using a three layer hierarchy on a portable music player. The example listed is organizing songs into artist folders, containing album folders, containing song files. Mplayer and a dozen other players did this years before the Creative patent was filed.

          Now, if we're talking about software which automatically parses ID3 tags and/or filenames and arrang

          • Mplayer and a dozen other players did this years before the Creative patent was filed.

            And before anybody replies that a computer is not a portable music player, please explain how the court would draw a distinction between a laptop computer and some other sort of portable music player.

            don't you think you should actually read up on what the patent does cover

            Which I have done, in detail [slashdot.org].

          • I appreciate your effort to clarify the issue since there is a lot of FUD, but don't you think you should actually read up on what the patent does cover before attempting to clarify it to others?

            Well fine then, I'll just go sit in the corner and shut up.

            After I point out that I was trying more to say what the suit isn't about, things like the physical interface and the whole "portable music player" concept.
      • http://tinyurl.com/olk32 [tinyurl.com]

        Check out the patent. The patent claims limit the scope to portable media players, which does not necessarily mean laptop computers. Sure, laptop computers play music, but that is not their primary purpose, whereas a portable media player is specifically geared to just that. The patent mentions specific button configurations and how the user interacts with the menu. For example, they mention three "soft" function buttons (i.e. the function of the button changes on context).

        If the pat
    • Of course, it happens to be very similar to how I organize directories at home, and seems like a rather intuitive concept that a lot of people would arrive at independently.

      Unfortunately, independent invention itself is not a valid legal defense against patent infringement suits.
  • I am expecting that with the anticipated release of a true video iPod towards that last quarter of this year, things will change pretty dramatically on the iPod landscape.

    Expected is a wide screen iPod with touchscreen access.

    This kind of system will require a significantly different UI structure. For instance, gone will be the touch wheel and buttons, instead some integrated touch screen UI is be required to navigate and browse music and movies on the new iPod.

    Also, Apple has dropped the chip used the cur
    • Expected is a wide screen iPod with touchscreen access.

      This kind of system will require a significantly different UI structure. For instance, gone will be the touch wheel and buttons, instead some integrated touch screen UI is be required to navigate and browse music and movies on the new iPod...

      I may be stepping out on a limb here, but I'm guessing you haven't actually thought this idea through. The idea of an iPod with a touch screen seems appealing on the surface, but anything more than a cursory consi

    • By the time any settlement is made, Apple, at worst, might have to pay Creative some lump sum for having sold their older iPods, but the new iPod will be free of conflict. The lump sum might be tied to some amount relative to the number of Jukebox's, Zen's and Muvo's Creative has sold over the last decade, which is to say, Apple might have to let go of some petty cash. Apple won't be able to serve Jello in their cafeteria in that particular week .

      Assuming a ruling in favor of Creative, not a settlement, t

    • a chamois cloth for wiping greasy fingerprints off the screen every two minutes.
  • by ACK!! (10229) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:32PM (#15542739) Journal
    Its more popular than beer with the college kids. Frat boys will have to start back binge drinking again if they stop selling iPods.
  • Can you imagine what the backlash would be from Apple/iPod fanatics (like me) if Creative were to be successful in bringing an injunction in this case? Good God, it would be tantamount to iSuicide!!
  • The menu in iPod is identical to the list view in NeXTStep by NeXT , now part of Apple, and predating anything Creative did with its player menus.
  • All of them? Or is this just a Nanoprobe?

    Bah! Creative should know that resistance is futile!

  • a lawyer-off with Apple. Like bloody meat to hungry pit bulls. . .
    • Given the counter-suits, I was pretty much yelling "let's get ready to rumble!" at the outset. Haven't read this much fun reading corporate prOn since Nintendo got into it with Universal over the name "Donkey Kong" (David Sheff's Game Over - read it today!)
      • Nintendo got into it with Universal over the name "Donkey Kong"

        That one was hillarious! It had so many twists and turns! First, Universal goes after Coleco because they had the rights to the home game version. So, Coleco pays Universal off, cancels shipping what would have been a huge game for them - probably would have saved the ColecoVision. And Atari, who had been kicking themselves for NOT getting the home game rights, swoops in and licenses those from Nintendo.

        Meanwhile, General Mills is cowtowed into
  • I'm confused. Did'nt the U.S. Patent office or a Federal court recently rule in Apple's favor? If so how does an International Patent organization have the power to overule the U.S. court system?

  • Did anyone notice in the actual ITC Filing [usitc.gov] that they sent in along with the complaint a Creative Zen, an iPod and a nano to "actually see the similarities"? Heck, I'll bet that the judge will throw the case out after he sees exactly how much the Zen sucks.
  • http://tinyurl.com/olk32 [tinyurl.com] This is the link to the patent in question.

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