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Apple Tries to Patent iPod User Interface 426

Posted by michael
from the rip-mix-patent dept.
harlows_monkeys writes "Apple's trying to patent several aspects of the iPod user interface. This one is particularly interesting because the claims are written in fairly clear and simple language, easy to understand by anyone. If this one is granted, it won't be because an overworked examineer was confused by deliberate obfuscation by the application (which is what I think happens for a lot of the ridiculous patents). About half the claims are for things that were implemented in prior players (e.g., Archos), and the other half are for things that are in many other common device interfaces (DVD players, PVRs) and the only novelty is that Apple put them on a portable music player."
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Apple Tries to Patent iPod User Interface

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  • Familiar names... (Score:5, Informative)

    by andy55 (743992) * on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:01AM (#8694136) Homepage
    Inventors: Robbin, Jeffrey L.; (Los Altos, CA) ; Jobs, Steve; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Wasko, Timothy; (High River, CA)

    Jeff Robbin was the primary author of SoundJam, licensed by Cassidy & Greene years ago. I worked w/ Jeff on some SoundJam and iTunes related software before Apple bought SoundJam (or whatever it is they did) from Cassidy & Greene. A landslide of credit goes to him for bringing iTunes to where it is today in a variety of categories (the most obvious being the UI). Although he probably wears additional hats at Apple, he's currently one of the iTunes senior engineers (if not the chief).
    • Re:Familiar names... (Score:5, Informative)

      by tyrione (134248) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:45AM (#8694678) Homepage

      I worked with Tim Wasko at NeXT and Apple. You'd be surprised how much of the UI credit should go to him.

      His role is basically that of Keith Ohlfs for OS X.

      In fact, before I left Tim was still disappointed that Keith couldn't be rehired.

    • by _UnderTow_ (86073) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @11:42AM (#8695724)
      A landslide of credit goes to him for bringing iTunes to where it is today in a variety of categories (the most obvious being the UI).

      I tried using itunes for windows a few weeks ago. My motivation was to try downloading the free songs I had won from my mass comsumption of pepsi products. After about a week of use I switched back to what I've been using for over four years, an open source project that used to be called freeamp, but because of a trademark issue is now called zinf (Zinf Is Not Freeamp). Zinf is open source and cross-platform, I use it in windows and in Linux.

      Sure itunes looks nice, but I found the way it handled my music library annoying at best. I wouldn't use it even for the free music that I won. I really don't understand the fawning, sycophantic praise for anything apple generates.
      • by mrtrumbe (412155)
        Can you say troll?

        I understand that not everyone likes the iTunes interface and that for *some* people, it isn't the most intuitive. Every human is different and each views their experiences through a filter of their own subjectivity. Therefor, not everyone will like iTunes.

        However, rather than assume the praise of the iTunes interface originates from a "fawning, sycophantic praise for anything apple generates," couldn't one just as easily surmise that the praise originates from the effectiveness of th

        • by King_TJ (85913) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:52PM (#8697363) Journal
          It's certainly part of the "Apple curse" that anything they build will get attacked by some members of the PC community, claiming it's only "liked because Apple fanatics praise everything the company does".

          IMHO though, this just strikes me as jealousy. (Wow - someone actually has a business that's so well liked by their customers that they're excited whenever they release a new product?! That's just not right! We have to tear that down A.S.A.P.!)

          The fact is, I *rarely* meet a non Apple user who doesn't at least say "Wow, that really is a nice app/feature/design!" if they really sit down and give the products and software a good look.

          The Apple "iApps" are a prime example of this. The point isn't that you can't find flaws in them if you try hard enough. (The new iPhoto, for example, has a bug where photo previews often look blurry... Clicking away from one and back onto it again sometimes makes it snap into focus. Annoying!) But *overall*, they give users a usable, clean interface that's hard to describe as anything but "sensible".

          Even if you don't personally like the way iTunes organizes your music library, the point is - it DOES organize it for you. Not every program does this, you know. It lets you create custom playlists based on all sorts of criteria, has the ability to cross-fade the end of one track into the start of the next (nice for playing MP3 songs ripped from "live" albums where normally, you hear a sharp cutoff when the audience is clapping at the end of a song), has easy, *built-in* ability to write to CD (as music or data format), and lots of other good stuff you want in a player. Plus, it's free.
      • Re:Familiar names... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dasmegabyte (267018) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:20PM (#8697176) Homepage Journal
        OK. I have a library of close to 250 gigabytes on three machines (four counting the ipod). And iTunes has been the best organizational system I've found. Once you get the music in there, you have so much power at your fingertips for doing mass associations, creating autogenerated playlists, altering EQs, archiving music, searching for a particular song, etc.

        Is it perfect? Hell no. For one thing, it plays fast and loose with ID3 tags, so even songs that are tagged correctly in iTunes sometimes lose their tags when they come out of it. Some of the really useful apple extensions like the star rating disappear when you move the files (which sucks when you're auditioning several thousand songs for possible deletion). For another, the "let's appease the RIAA" decision of not allowing copying FROM an iPod means I need to maintain other applications to get stuff that I placed on the iPod.

        Finally, using iTunes sort of requires you to adopt the iPod Way of doing things -- e.g. you have to let it control your library, or else it goes a bit whacko. This makes sense. You should ALWAYS control the lowest level of abstraction using the highest level whenever possible, or risk having to maintain the abstraction on each level. iTunes' ability to treat metadata as a pseudo filesystem makes it a very useful high level abstraction. It takes very little extra effort to do all your file maintenance in iTunes, but if you're such a control freak that you're constantly moving files around, you shouldn't be using a music library application in the first place.

        Incidentally, the library handling is much saner on OSX, where you can move files to your heart's content and not worry about the app not being able to find them.
  • by Operating Thetan (754308) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:03AM (#8694148) Journal
    If it was Microsoft doing this, we'd have seen a long judgemental rant with a biased link at the end. Good to see some things never change on Slashdot
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Are we reading the same article? I don't see anything pro-Apple in this submission.

      Good to see astroturfer same-ole same-old -- at least it's predictable.
    • by andy55 (743992) * on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:08AM (#8694181) Homepage
      If it was Microsoft doing this, we'd have seen a long judgmental rant with a biased link at the end.

      A fair point, but I think we all agree here that a patent filer deserves to be flamed if their implementation of the patent is garbage (ie, MS WMP). iTunes/Apple has legitimately pioneered most of this new territory everyone else now has no problem ripping off. There was a post a few days ago by someone noting how Apple just doesn't get innovative software handed to them from a magical gnome cave--they spend a lot of money and hire the top talent.
      • by petabyte (238821) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:16AM (#8694211)
        They're patenting aspects of the iPod user interface. iTunes is very important to the iPod but isn't apart of the iPod AFAIK (I've never actually seen one).

        We're flaming Apple because they're patenting something semi-obvious (though most posts will return to the usual flaming of the totally broken US Intellectual Property system). That I have no problem with.
        • by udippel (562132) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @09:14AM (#8695109)
          They're patenting aspects of the iPod user interface.

          Parent has read the claims. Most posters haven't, before they started bashing.

          Parent has done a great job in pointing out the main weakness: Apple doesn't ask for technicalities, but design. Essentially.

          Claim 26 is the most precise one: They ask for protection for an Interface Design Aspect that automagically changes the underlying interfaces along with the user interaction.

          This is a clear sign of a patent system flawed over time, since the idea is not basically a technical one. Imagine your mail-client (or just look at it) and imagine you click on the sender of a mail and the interfaces changes to display all mails of that sender. You click on a subject and all mails of this subject come up. Not a bad one, no. I'd even agree that it may be discussed if the author should get royalties. But a patent ? Only over my dead body. (I quit the Patent Office to have a life !)

          This is the typical kind of software patentry where you describe a rather vague idea, ask for a patent and sue the implementer.

          I can only call on everyone - in US and EU - to put all efforts into stopping this madness.

        • It's not obvious, at all. A post [slashdot.org] I wrote earlier. Apple/NeXT's column view is very different than anything I've seen, or heard about, in OS browsing. Not in Linux, not in Windows, not in DOS, not in OS/2.

          And with the iPod, it didn't exist in the (predecessor) Nomads and Lyras, and I'm fairly sure it was in the Archos!

          Those devices were playlist centric, in which you either selected playlists, or songs in playlists, an an explorer style folder view, which is *very* different than Apple's disclosure view, and very different from Apple's column view.

          The iPod has implemented in hardware Apple's Finder's column view. Take a look at it, and tell me it isn't genius, if you ever handle an iPod.
      • by Lord Kano (13027) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:13AM (#8694587) Homepage Journal
        Apple put a new spin on existing technology, and they found success with it. The iPod was just a better implementation of the MP3 players that had been on the market for years beforehand. iTunes is just Apple's flavor of a media player, like WinAmp or WMP.

        Apple once again found the sweet spot with iTunes, but they didn't really break any new ground.

        LK
    • Well, duh (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:15AM (#8694209)
      If it was Microsoft doing this

      If Microsoft were trying to patent the Apple iPod they'd deserve all the flames they could possibly get...
    • by harikiri (211017) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:23AM (#8694247)
      The slashdot crowd roots for the 'underdog', in this case it's Apple vs Microsoft (and others who try to clone the iPod interface).

      We bitch and moan about Microsoft because of the behemoth it is. Apple has 'slashdot-cred' because they produce cool stuff (OS X, iPods, powerbooks... drool).

      You must be new here... (obligatory!) ;)
    • The Martyr Brigade (Score:3, Interesting)

      by _Sprocket_ (42527)


      If it was Microsoft doing this, we'd have seen a long judgemental rant with a biased link at the end. Good to see some things never change on Slashdot

      If this were about Microsoft, we'd have Microsoft Martyrs describing why this is acceptable, pointing out that a profit must be made, and decrying anti-Microsoft opinions and criticism. Oh. And judious use of the term "slashbot".

      As it is... this is a story that has nothing to do with Microsoft... but the Microsoft Martyrs still get a chance to cry ab

    • One of the things I think people forget about slashdot is that it is not a monolithic entity. It has at least 750000 registered readers, and it is rediculous to assume that they all agree with each other.

      I saw this article as being an example of a writing style I wish slashdot had more of, relativly neutral, factual articles. Let the rants come in the comments.
  • Question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jwthompson2 (749521) <(moc.smargorpnialp) (ta) (semaj)> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:05AM (#8694154) Homepage
    I am stupid when it comes to most things related to patents.

    What does this mean, does Apple secure exclusive rights to the specific combination of all the features of the iPod or to the individual features?

    If this patent is approved what would be the impact on the portable music player market?
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:23AM (#8694244)
      The extent of the patent is coverd by the claims. Apple is trying to take a huge bite with paragraph 34:

      While this invention has been described in terms of a preferred embodiment, there are alterations, permutations, and equivalents that fall within the scope of this invention. It should also be noted that there are many alternative ways of implementing both the process and apparatus of the present invention. It is therefore intended that the invention be interpreted as including all such alterations, permutations, and equivalents as fall within the true spirit and scope of the present invention.

      Apple had already threatened to sue iRiver for attempting to use the scroll-wheel and a similar user interface in the iHP-120. iRiver went with the 'clit' manuevering device instead. If the iRiver iHP-120 had the same easy to use iPod interface while retaining all those features it could've been an iPod killer.
      • Scroll wheel (Score:4, Insightful)

        by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:19AM (#8694896)
        Maybe I'm missing the point, but the scroll wheel interface has been done plenty of times on other devices, eg car audio, av gear, so why's it so patent worthy because it's on a portable MP3 player?
        • by blorg (726186) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:16AM (#8695308)
          ...on their CD and Minidisc players - for exactly the same purpose as Apple do on the iPod, to move quickly between songs. The implementation is different (generally like a volume knob) but Apple's innovation here is just a combination of two things with some industrial design; it's not so great that it should patentable. I can scroll through things on my notebook's touchpad by dragging my finger down one side; this has been standard on notebooks ever since I had one.

          Incidentally the 'scroll wheel' in some form or other is pretty much universal on any Sony product, including their Vaio notebooks and Clie PDAs. My last Vaio had one on the side; they've now moved it to between the mouse buttons and it is effectively now just a mouse scroll wheel. AFAIK, Sony never tried to patent the idea.
          • by baxissimo (135512) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:48AM (#8695463)
            I'm with you that this doesn't seem like a very patent-worthy innovation. But when you think about it, when you go to a fast food restaraunt or coffee joint, even the plastic lids on the cups are patented. They've been patenting things like that for as long as I can remember. And what's the difference from lid to lid? Basically just a little industrial design. If that's the standard, then yeh, I have to say the iPod is at least as innovative as the plastic lid I got on my last cup of coffee.
            • OTOH, the plastic lids you get at Starbucks is significantly better then any lid you would have got on a cup of coffee 20 years ago.

              Instaed of a flat lid you had to tear a corner out of, someone created one you could actually drink out of.
    • Re:Question (Score:3, Informative)

      Patents are filed with broad claims and specific claims. Other companies get to comment on the claims. I had a quick look at the site and it wasn't clear whether this has been granted, but the filing date is Oct 28 2002 so prior art must obviously predate the filing date.

      It looks to me like the broadest claims cover 'multimedia player' so will cover video/audio players. Who knows of the claims which ones Apple expects to succeed with, and with which they are trying it on.
    • Re:Question (Score:4, Insightful)

      by C10H14N2 (640033) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:02AM (#8694560)
      Moreover, what we be the impact on anyone writing recursive indexes. *poof* Apple owns your b-trees as soon as they are populated with "artists" and "albums." This is asinine.
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Maestro4k (707634) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:12AM (#8694584) Journal
      • I am stupid when it comes to most things related to patents.

        What does this mean, does Apple secure exclusive rights to the specific combination of all the features of the iPod or to the individual features?

        If this patent is approved what would be the impact on the portable music player market?

      If history is any indicator, the portable music player market could forget having a user interface even remotely similar to Apple's in any shape, form or fashion. If they did, Apple would unleash the lawyers and sue them into oblivion. Do you remember the whole thing with Amazon and 1-click ordering? Same process, just a different area. Apple has also shown interest in following up with lawsuits, remember the PC makers who got sued for making colored PCs that were just a bit too iMac looking? One of them basically asked for it (IIRC, it looked exactly like an iMac, just had a PC inside and a different company logo), but at least one of the others was more general, having a colored monitor/case.

      Basically it'd be at best a major nuisance, and at worst force everyone else to have ungainly user interfaces. (At least accepting that iPod's UI is good and easy to use, my (admittedly limited) experience with it was one of great frustration personally.)

      In any case since elements of the user interface have existed in other products prior to the iPod, prior art should invalidate the patent claim. The US Patent Office has issued many questionable patents where prior art existed, and the excuse so far has been the patent was written to obfuscate, or was confusing, so they didn't pick up on it. This time the patent is written clearly, so the interesting thing will be to see if the US Patent Office issues a patent in face of prior art when the patent isn't hard to understand. Many would consider their issuing this patent a sign that the whole patent process is broken beyond repair.

      • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sahala (105682) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [alahas]> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:08AM (#8694736)
        Basically it'd be at best a major nuisance, and at worst force everyone else to have ungainly user interfaces.

        How would it force everyone else to have "ungainly" UIs? If they can't directly copy the iPod interaction design then *GASP* they would instead have to innovate and come up with a new and perhaps better way of going about playing music on a portable device. Imagine that...

        (At least accepting that iPod's UI is good and easy to use, my (admittedly limited) experience with it was one of great frustration personally.)

        Well there you go...you even say that you find the iPod frustrating to use. It's quite entirely possible that someone could come up with something better, perhaps the design to rule them all even to suit your taste in device interactions.

        • Re:Question (Score:4, Insightful)

          by TheOnlyCoolTim (264997) <tim.bolbrock@veri z o n .net> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:15AM (#8694757)
          Because whether or not they were trying to innovate their UI, there would be certain UI conventions that were verboten, like the scroll wheel.

          Tim
        • Re:Question (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jonhuang (598538)
          Because a 'good UI' is by definition similar to existing UIs. Have you ever watched a totally computer illiterate person struggle with using a scroll bar? happens all the time.

          Abstractions such as 'scroll wheels', 'menus', and hierachical elements far preceeded Apple's ipod--that why they were good to use. Patenting the use of such elements on media players forces other players into different--and thus counterintuitive--interface widgets.

      • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

        by peachawat (466977) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:36AM (#8694797) Journal
        If history is any indicator, the portable music player market could forget having a user interface even remotely similar to Apple's in any shape, form or fashion.

        Yes and they should. And the market should come up with a user interface that is better, more intuitive than iPod's. And original. The keyword is be innovative. When it came out, the iPod UI doesn't look like anything on the market at that time. And I think Apple deserve credit for that. Now every player wants to look and feel like iPod.

        Is it a Slashdot mindset that it is always bad if you can't copy anything at will? Why can't other player maker come up with better UI? Why can't we come up with something better and original? Why does every Linux Desktop UI has to look like Windows or Aqua?
        • Re:Question (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mr. Slippery (47854)

          Why can't other player maker come up with better UI? Why can't we come up with something better and original?

          Because user interfaces are supposed to be similar.

          "Why can't other car makers come up with a better UI than pedals and a wheel? Why can't they come up with something better and original?"

          "Why can't other telephone makers come up with a better UI than a 3x4 array of keys with numbers and letters? Why can't they come up with something better and original?"

          "Why can't other CD player makers c

  • by c.r.o.c.o (123083) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:05AM (#8694157)
    I see one of the three people in the inventors list is Steve Jobs. I guess the guy standing with the whip behind the engineers deserves some credit, but this is ridiculous!

    *grin*
    • by nacturation (646836) <nacturation&gmail,com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:22AM (#8694239) Journal
      Jobs should get some credit. It was, after all, his reality distortion field the engineers were influenced by.
    • Once you become a multi-billionaire you too can take credit for inventing a popular device.

      There is a downside to this perk however. Gates knows this....
    • by JohnsonWax (195390) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:42AM (#8694332)
      I think any Apple engineer will tell you that Steve plays a direct role in many of Apple's high-profile products. There's no doubt that some sort of element like the scroll wheel came out of his head, even if he had no direct role in it's implementaiton.

      Now, whether he plays a positive or negative role is another matter. It's my understanding that much of the ever-changing UI in OS X+iApps is due to his input.
      • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:17AM (#8694601) Homepage
        There's no doubt that some sort of element like the scroll wheel came out of his head, even if he had no direct role in it's implementaiton

        Perhaps...but click the link in the article, which takes you right to the patent application, and read the claims. They aren't trying to patent the scroll wheel (at least, with this patent). With this patent application, they are trying to patent things that were done before on other players, or that were done on other kinds of devices and all Apple did was copy them for use on the iPod.

        Their broadest claims cover any media player that has a menu that brings up another menu (or even a dialog, for that matter), for example.

      • I think any Apple engineer will tell you that Steve plays a direct role in many of Apple's high-profile products.

        You could say that. Here's how it works:

        Designer: Hey Mr. Jobs. Look at this new product idea I came up with! It's a small, off-white digital music player. It's stylish, matches any outfit, and fits in your pocket!

        Steve Jobs: Hmm.. Change the color from "off-white", to "white". Oh, and don't forget to add my name to the patent application. Ciao. I've got a 12:30 facial.
  • Too far? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScooterBill (599835) * on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:06AM (#8694164)
    It's a pretty slick interface and one that would also be easy to copy. I can't fault Apple for trying to protect against a horde of Asian clone iPods. If a patent is granted and Apple has the common sense to only enforce it in obvious cases of someone copying the interface, then great. If they get the patent and then sue anyone and everyone who has something that sort of works like the iPod, then that sucks.

    M
    • Re:Too far? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bradkittenbrink (608877) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:10AM (#8694189) Homepage Journal
      If they do that, then they risk getting their patent overturned in court. I think it's unlikely that they'll be that stupid.
      • by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:28AM (#8694634) Homepage
        If they do that, then they risk getting their patent overturned in court.

        My understanding (IANAL and all that) is that that isn't how patent law works. You're allowed to take your patent and hide, and when you see fit start suing as selectively as you please. On the other hand, you must agressively pursue trademark infringements or risk losing it. This allowed Unisys to lie in waiting while GIF became popular and then come out and ambush the big guys. IBM is known to not pursue violations of their "small" patents till they decide its time to kill someone at which point they can almost always find something out of their huge portfolio of patents that their victim is violating.

        Patents can only be overturned if prior-art is shown to exist. And as mentioned in a recent slashdot story [slashdot.org] only 151 patents have been overturned since 1988.
    • Re:Too far? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PacoTaco (577292) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:16AM (#8694214)
      If a patent is granted and Apple has the common sense to only enforce it in obvious cases of someone copying the interface, then great.

      It probably won't help them at all. It's look and feel [wikipedia.org] all over again.

      • Re:Too far? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Magnus Reftel (143)

        It probably won't help them at all. It's look and feel all over again.

        That was copyright. This is a patent. As your link points out:

        It remains unclear what would have happened if Apple had acquired a software patent ...

        This patent is not even really a software patent - it's about how a physical device is used. The fact that the only feasible way to implement it is to use software isn't really all that significant (imho, at least). So: the look and feel case isn't likely to be relevant at all here.

    • Re:Too far? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SirShadowlord (32925) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:57AM (#8694388) Homepage
      Alternatively, realize that Apple may quite likely be filing this patent as a defense mechanism.

      It would be demonstrable incompetence in their Intellectual Properties division if Apple was succesfully sued for patent infringement for the iPod by another company?

      Now, if this technology cannot be Patented/is not patentable, then Apple is covered, because then Apple can't be sued for patent infringement.

      Alternatively, if they are awared a patent on several of their claims, then it makes for good counter-ammunition when someone else trys to sue them.

      99% of the time, Patent Portfolio's are built up as a defensive mechanism, kind of like mutually assured destruction.

      Any company large enough to have a patent attorney will be doing this sort of thing.

  • iPod sales are going through the roof. So much so that Apple doesn't even have enough stock to supply it's European market. I think Apple is being very wise and protecting itself from the likes of Microsoft, who I'm sure would take advantage of any "deliberate obfuscation" to find loopholes and use the same interface when they decide to produce their own BillPod.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:13AM (#8694199)
    Being, you know, a corporation which does research and follows the "patent shield" theory, Apple patents EVERYTHING they come up with. Including their interfaces. Including their *themes*. Go look over Apple's patents. They really do try the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach.

    Once it starts seeming like Apple is considering *using* said patent, then thi will be news. Until then, this doesn't tell us anything. I've never seen Apple attempt to use any of these patents. Even when they were harassing creators of Aqua schemes, they never resorted to patents, always arguing in terms of copyright...
    • Example:
      United States Patent D478,999 [uspto.gov]
      Jobs , et al., August 26, 2003

      Staircase

      Claims: We claim the ornamental design for a staircase, substantially as shown and describe

      (I know it's a design patent. It's still a funny thing to find when you're going through a technology company's patent filings :)
    • by falcon5768 (629591) <Falcon5768.comcast@net> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:47AM (#8694350) Journal
      and can you blame them? Apple wasnt so patent happy back in the old days and look what it got them, they lost their interface design to the company making their Office software wh then turned around and made a 2nd rate OS based on it.. iMac is released and 4 seperate comapnies make a PC with EXACTLY the same design original iPod comes out and Dell and Rio make iPod clone that look EXACTLY like the iPod sans the good looking interface... one of them even uses Apples font! The company makes designs that then get hacked apart by cheap knockoffs... why is it not cool for a software/hardware company to protect its design , but perfectly fine for your shoe company, or your coffee pot maker to protect it... you really would be surprised how many companies protect their products by patening them... AND if they are patenting the thing I think they are, its the combination trackpad button setup of the iPod mini and rumored redesign on the 4th gen iPod they are patenting, not the player itself... which is understandable cause It really is a VERY good design
  • So? It's their's. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SphericalCrusher (739397) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:15AM (#8694207) Homepage Journal
    Well, I mean, if you created something that helped a piece of hardware sell a lot, then you're going to want to make sure the world knows its yours.. and doesn't steal it also. Right?
  • by Rude Turnip (49495) <valuation@gma i l .com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:18AM (#8694218)
    If this is a so-called "design patent," then it isn't a big deal. It would be a patent on a specific design and layout, not the underlying concepts of a music player, which can be implemented in many ways. I believe they have a design patent on their trash can icon, as well. Again, not a patent on the idea of a trash can, but one specific design (a metal wire basket in OS X).
    • Apple has a pretty strong claim on the idea of dragging a GUI interface icon into a trash can to signal a request to delete a binary object... so much so that in MS-Windows, they clearly label their similar object as a "Recycle Bin" instead.

      Apple is pretty much here describing what's unique about the iPod UI so that anybody else who wants to make a competiting music player had better design their own UI rather than copy the iPod's. It's not that hard, just avoid the using the same menu structure and same "
  • by dbirchall (191839) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:22AM (#8694235) Journal
    At this point in history, the vast majority of patents that are filed draw upon previous inventions. Very few people think far enough outside the box to come up with things that bear no resemblance to those which have come before, and share no parts with them. Does that mean inventions that combine or enhance existing technologies and methods in ways that have not been seen before should be barred from being patented? Some Slashdotters seem, from their knee-jerk reactions, to hold that view.

    Perhaps if I went searching through old articles, I would find someone posting that the Segway wasn't worthy of being patented, because it used gyroscopes, handlebars, wheels, and even a grip-throttle - all of which everyone knew had been around for ages in other devices.

    Perhaps a flying car wouldn't be worthy because it used parts from cars and airplanes, both of which have been around in some form or another for a hundred years.

    See where I'm going here?

    If you take enough different ideas or things from enough different places, and put them together in a way that hasn't been seen before, and the result is something that significantly improves upon what had been seen before, to the extent that people look at it and say, "Wow, that's sure new and different," you've basically had an original idea. Sure, you've been standing on the shoulders of giants - but so has everyone else.

  • by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:22AM (#8694240) Journal
    1) Apple can do no wrong. Drink the Kool Aid, bathe in the warm glow of the Reality Distortion Field, and shut up.

    2) This patent seems to involve the graphical display of content and features of a MP3 player through a hierarchical menu structure and through playlists.

    3) They are patenting a feature on a physical device, not a software method. They're not patenting the software. The technology they are patenting is embodied in a physical device.

    4) A patent can be based on other work, even other patented work. If any previous art that Apple has built on is patented and that patent is owned by another company, Apple must still pay that other company. If a third party wants to license the technology, they must pay both Apple and the other company.

    5) Patents mostly suck, unless Apple applies for them, because of 1).
    • by AEton (654737) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:55AM (#8694380)

      Agreed re: 1) and 5). I'm trying to find a way to say tactfully and nontrollfully that there's a bizarre element of doublethink going on here.

      Slashdot posts about one "gee, that's a silly patent" story per week. There's usually a good mix (I read at +4, +3 for that brief time that the server was too slow to hand out enough mod points) of comments saying "the patent isn't so broad as the submitter made it out, and really this is perfectly legitimate" or "I know how to make money! I'll patent the use of cookies as incentives...in a porable media player!" or "This is another example of why the patent system is seriously messed up and needs to be reformed" or "I found prior art!" or "This patent is frivolous because algorithms are copyrightable speech, not patentable inventions" or "This patent is utter nonsense because it's common sense" or something else.

      This time reading at +3/4 I see only vocal supporters of Apple. After reading the list of claims that seem pretty broad on something kind of intuitive - reading an MP3 file...on a portable media player! And correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't these claims cumulative rather than limiting? That's quite a lot to assert.

      It seems like for whatever reason Apple gets the benefit of the doubt a lot more often than other companies; I'm not sure why. Every corporation seeks to maximize its profits.

      • by sc00p18 (536811) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:31AM (#8694640)
        It seems like for whatever reason Apple gets the benefit of the doubt a lot more often than other companies; I'm not sure why. Every corporation seeks to maximize its profits.

        I think the main reason apple tends to get the benefit of the doubt in a lot of cases is because most of the time they focus on and succeed in creating products that are technologically better than the competition. People on slashdot tend to notice good technology when they see it, and are appreciative of it. They get bonus points for using an open source kernel in their OS. They get bonus points for creating rendezvous and documenting it nicely so others can use it. They get bonus points for expose, which is a truly useful innovation. The list goes on...
  • How's this bad? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phalse phace (454635) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:30AM (#8694273)
    I don't see this as being bad. Apple's just trying to protect their iPod UI design so people don't copy it [wired.com].

    I mean, Apple has spent a lot of time and money in perfecting the look and feel of the iPod. And now they want to protect that. How's that a bad thing?

    • Re:How's this bad? (Score:3, Informative)

      by LostCluster (625375) *
      That article linking to by the parent looks like a very big find... it may be the exact reason why Apple is filing this application. See, in order to take a patent infringment case to court, you first have to have your patent registered.

      The pPod program is a $20 program for WinCE/PocketPC devices that is a software emulator of an iPod's user interface, right down to the concept of a virtual scroll wheel (by tracking finger movements in the designated circle on the touchscreen) and displaying the user's mus
    • Re:How's this bad? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bull999999 (652264)
      In previous articles dealing with IP and patents, slashdotters often flame drug companies for patenting their drugs to prevent others from copying it. I believe this shows the inconsistancy in beliefs among slashdotters.

      I personally believe that patents are just a tool. You can use it to protect or destroy.
  • by nvrrobx (71970) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:33AM (#8694287) Homepage
    "About half the claims are for things that were implemented in prior players (e.g., Archos), and the other half are for things that are in many other common device interfaces (DVD players, PVRs) and the only novelty is that Apple put them on a portable music player."

    As we were told where I work: If you come up with a new way to package / use existing technologies, you CAN patent that.
  • by Ilan Volow (539597) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:06AM (#8694413) Homepage
    In the several years I've followed Slashdot, I've read countless article after countless article bashing Apple for things like not making their Cocoa UI open source, or suing rival hardware manufacturers for copying their latest innovation, or going after theme-makers who attempt to copy their Aqua for use on other platforms. Maybe some of those concerns are legitimate, but there's another legitimate concern whose presence is never expressed: why is it always Apple who has to be the one inventing these great things? In my opinion, there should be equal outrage about the rest of the computer industry (Open Source included) not furthering technological progress for the common man.

    • Why can't we have outrage over all the non-innovative cloners not taking innovative risks to make life better for end users? Why can't we have articles like "dell refuses to innovate" or "Gateway poo-poos idea that would make things easier for end users because it was deemed too risky"? Why can't we have these kinds of articles in addition to "Apple sues dell for copying their innovation" or "Apple threatens gateway for look-and-feel infringement"?


    • Why can't we be outraged over Creative Labs or Diamond Rio or anyone else not being the first to make an ergonomically excellent hard-disk based portable mp3 players with a superior UI? Why can there only be outrage over Apple preventing these people from copying the UI that they themselves weren't willing to make in the first place?


    • Why can't we have outrage over Open Source/Free Software projects caring little about things like interface design or not coming up with innovative UI's? Why can't we have articles like "linux distribution spends $700,000,000 on dot-com buyouts and $50 on usability research" or "$DESKTOP_PROJECT coordinator tells HCI person with legitimate UI complaint 'quit whining about what you get for free' while telling industry pundit 'quit spreading M$ FUD About Linux Being Hard To Use'"? Why can we only feel outrage over articles like "Apple threatens $DESKTOP_PROJECT over copying Expose" or "Apple Sues Linux Distribution For Copying Aqua Theme?"



    We shouldn't be pissed about Apple trying to horde and brutally protect it's innovations, we should be pissed about them being the only ones creating innovations worth hording and brutally protecting.
    • by Bull999999 (652264) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:20AM (#8694448) Journal
      What did you expect? May people here are outraged that "for-profit" corporations acutally exist for profit!
    • by Christ-on-a-bike (447560) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:57AM (#8694703)
      You might be right that software makers don't innovate enough. But you've overdone the outrage.

      Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, software isn't innovative because developers are scared to death to implement any feature that could be patented?

      The patent system is broken for software. Every time you pay to get a designer in for a new, innovative interface, not only do you risk producing something that puts off users because of its novelty, you also risk treading on the toes of Adobe, Microsoft, IBM, and now Apple (the list goes on). Every one of these companies is prepared to nuke small developers into oblivion if it will help their bottom line.

      Software patents are inevitably overbroad, overly durable and unnecessary legal instruments. This is obvious. Developers are so afraid of submarine patents that it is understandable to avoid creating anything that is even remotely similar to a possibly-patented product. Apple and others are crushing innovation with their patent bullshit, and you post here claiming they're a force for good in software? Delicious.

    • by tyrione (134248) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:02AM (#8694717) Homepage

      Not to take the wind out of your sails because I agree with your insights but the Cocoa UI you are referring to hasn't to do with Cocoa but with QUARTZ which is proprietary, and rightfully so. I'd hate to think of the comments from Andrew Barnes, Peter Graffanino and the rest of the brilliant engineers who made Quartz happen, if Steve walked in one day and said, "I've have an epiphany! Let's give the world Quartz via Open Source." I'm sure Freedesktop.org is counting on that never happening.

      The Cocoa APIs are freely available and accessible, on-line. GNUstep implements the Openstep Standard that NeXT and SUN co-drafted and released in 1994.

  • by bagel2ooo (106312) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:25AM (#8694465)
    I've often been curious about this. While I respect and understand the rights to a company patenting it's user interface be it tangible or software, I ponder how much this effects inconsistency among interfaces. I'm sure many of you have been in a rental car and gone to set a preset or change the radio station and have given up in frustration as not to hit another car trying to figure out the new interface. Certainly this was true for a while in the early 90s among games when they had to use different key combinations for different actions and such. Just how much does patenting of interfaces effect inconsistency among interfaces.
  • by inkswamp (233692) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:29AM (#8694482)
    Apple has learned in the past not to allow their user interfaces to be copied. Hmm... can you maybe possibly think of an example where Apple got royally screwed for not being protective enough of their interface [microsoft.com]? Maybe not.

  • form factor patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nonoche (138802) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:08AM (#8694573)
    you know, if Nintendo can patent a gamepad with a cross-shaped directional button (check it out, no other gamepad has it), I guess Apple can very well patent their scroll wheel.
    • you know, if Nintendo can patent a gamepad with a cross-shaped directional button (check it out, no other gamepad has it), I guess Apple can very well patent their scroll wheel

      That would be an interesting comment if Apple were trying to patent their scroll wheel. However, this patent application has nothing to do with that. Go look at the claims--they are fairly clearly written and not hard to read.

  • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:12AM (#8694585) Journal
    If we admit that Apple's patent is reasonable, we should also admit that OneClick is reasonable.

    Frankly, I don't think that UI elements should be patentable. It's already extremely difficult to write software without infringing on a patent. I can't even imagine how hard it would be to design user interfaces without infringing on any mechanisms.
    • If we admit that Apple's patent is reasonable, we should also admit that OneClick is reasonable.

      Nope, sorry, totally different thing.

      The problem most people here have with OneClick is that it is an incredibly obvious and simple idea that doesn't appear to have required any real work on the part of anyone at Amazon.

      What Apple is trying to do with this design patent is protect the work of those that conceived of the iPod's unique UI. To suggest that imagining the thing in the first place isn't "work" s
  • by curious.corn (167387) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:13AM (#8694986)
    hey, what kind of moblie phones do you exactly use in the US, rotary dial? My very first, gritty Mitsubishi from 5 years ago had a hierarchical menu (and clumsy too); only, it didn't have a sweeping animation on transitions ;-) Last week I played with an SE P800 and it does much more that place calls :-) The SE T610 is another one I've seen (nasty slow interface... shame, shame), don't you have these in the US (ugh, must be savages!)
    My current gritty (and dog old) cell is a Siemens M30... it's a complete prior art: hierarchical, up/down/click to enter subsection thing... the only "design" attribute I give to the iPod is having a wheel adding a sexy circular motion to a very rigid UI. It's a kind of Zen thing I really like.
    So, although typing on a TiBook I must laugh at Apple's claims.
    Ciao
  • by sidles (735901) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {seldisaj}> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @09:32AM (#8695159)

    Since 1994, Donald Knuth has lobbied against algorithm patents. Perhaps we ought to ask whether interface patents are not just as destructive of freedom and human rights.

    Do interface patents "take away [our] right to use fundamental building blocks" (in Knuth's words)?

    Here is the text of Knuth's letter [mit.edu].

    Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks
    Box 4, Patent and Trademark Office
    Washington, DC 20231

    February 1994

    Dear Commissioner:

    Along with many other computer scientists, I would like to ask you to reconsider the current policy of giving patents for computational processes. I find a considerable anxiety throughout the community of practicing computer scientists that decisions by the patent courts and the Patent and Trademark Office are making life much more difficult for programmers.

    In the period 1945-1980, it was generally believed that patent law did not pertain to software. However, it now appears that some people have received patents for algorithms of practical importance--e.g., Lempel-Ziv compression and RSA public key encryption--and are now legally preventing other programmers from using these algorithms.

    This is a serious change from the previous policy under which the computer revolution became possible, and I fear this change will be harmful for society. It certainly would have had a profoundly negative effect on my own work: For example, I developed software called TeX that is now used to produce more than 90% of all books and journals in mathematics and physics and to produce hundreds of thousands of technical reports in all scientific disciplines. If software patents had been commonplace in 1980, I would not have been able to create such a system, nor would I probably have ever thought of doing it, nor can I imagine anyone else doing so.

    I am told that the courts are trying to make a distinction between mathematical algorithms and nonmathematical algorithms. To a computer scientist, this makes no sense, because every algorithm is as mathematical as anything could be. An algorithm is an abstract concept unrelated to physical laws of the universe.

    Nor is it possible to distinguish between "numerical" and "nonnumerical" algorithms, as if numbers were somehow different from other kinds of precise information. All data are numbers, and all numbers are data. Mathematicians work much more with symbolic entities than with numbers.

    Therefore the idea of passing laws that say some kinds of algorithms belong to mathematics and some do not strikes me as absurd as the 19th century attempts of the Indiana legislature to pass a law that the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is exactly 3, not approximately 3.1416. It's like the medieval church ruling that the sun revolves about the earth. Man-made laws can be significantly helpful but not when they contradict fundamental truths.

    Congress wisely decided long ago that mathematical things cannot be patented. Surely nobody could apply mathematics if it were necessary to pay a license fee whenever the theorem of Pythagoras is employed. The basic algorithmic ideas that people are now rushing to patent are so fundamental, the result threatens to be like what would happen if we allowed authors to have patents on individual words and concepts. Novelists or journalists would be unable to write stories unless their publishers had permission from the owners of the words. Algorithms are exactly as basic to software as words are to writers, because they are the fundamental building blocks needed to make interesting products. What would happen if individual lawyers could patent their methods of defense, or if Supreme Court justices could patent their precedents?

    I realize that the patent courts try their best to serve society when they formulate patent law. The Patent Office has fulfilled this mission admirably with respect to aspects of technology that

  • by wazzzup (172351) <(astromac) (at) (fastmail.fm)> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:24AM (#8695327)

    The wankers over in Redmond are about to release thier self-proclaimed "iPod killer" brick and since it's been proven time and time again that they aren't interested in innovating (just copying and/or smothering). So maybe it's a protective measure against Billy & Co. Apple has been Redmond's R&D lab for many years. Don't beleive me? Go here and read the part about "New graphics with the Desktop Composition Engine" [winsupersite.com]. It still goes on to this day.

    I'd be a little worried if I were Apple. I mean, look at Microsoft's track record - they missed the boat on the GUI, office productivity apps, the internet and now the search engine. They missed the mark early on only to copy and then dominate those respective areas (don't you dare take Google away you bastards!). In typical fashion, Microsoft slowly looks at the digital music phenomena and says to itself "hmmm...there's something bright over here...let's exterminate it".

    Apple may be setting themselves up to take MS to court if they end up having to. At least the EU has proven that they aren't blinded and seduced by corporate money like the current U.S. administration. Admittedly, I have no idea if a U.S. patent makes a rats ass bit of difference over in the EU.

  • by jkabbe (631234) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @11:26AM (#8695635)
    The Apple patent application has likely only been published for a limited time (it still hasn't even hit the 18 month mark). Any IP department worth salt regularly looks at the published applications and patents in the gazette to see if anything reads on their products and inventions.

    So at this point Creative, Archos, and anyone else who thinks they invented the "invention" or publicly used/sold this "invention" prior to October 28, 2001 will be sending into the USPTO documentary evidence of that fact. That's what the publication of the application is for.
  • by Bruha (412869) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:05PM (#8696129) Homepage Journal
    From all the descriptions here if granted that patent could apply to:

    Any type of menu, XP Start Menu, Mozilla file menu etc.

    They are also trying to patent the very playlists themselves IMHO Mp3's were the first format out that enabled playlists created from the tags in the songs.

    I had expected to see a patent on the physical interface itself as I thought it was very unique and worthy of a patent. However the process of the playlists are hardly new and worthy of a patent at all.

  • by Entropy2016 (751922) <entropy2016@yahoo . c om> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:41PM (#8697308)
    Does Apple innovate?
    Cool UI, FireWire, SuperDrive, etc (long list).

    Does that long list include the iPod's interface?
    Well, that doesn't seem to have a B&W answer. Not because I'm an Apple whore, but also because the patent system is pretty fucked up. Assuming Apple is wrong (in a slash-dotter's eyes), bitching at just them doesn't solve anything anyway. Bitch about what's allowed to be patented (yeah, I'm syphoning blame from Apple). You shouldn't expect companies to follow ethic guidelines, you need harder rules.

    Also, ask yourself: If you invented the iPod & iPod-interface, and someone tried to copy it exactly, would you let it go? People who copy the interface are basically trying to get a free ride off of Apple's work.

    If company-A makes something cool, they probably spent time & money to do it. If company-B copies company-A's cool gizmo, and sells an equal number as company-A, they make more money than company-A did because they didn't have to spend money on design. Result; company-B is more successful due to parasitic product-design strategy.
    Is that fair?

    I'm sure apple wont sue anyone who uses stylistically different hierarchal menus on mp3 players, just the ones that copy them pixel-for-pixel, so I'm not worried.

    Conclusion: Patents on blurry issues like UI might not be cool, but getting your product ripped off by lazy designers isn't cool either.
  • by Tjp($)pjT (266360) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:25PM (#8698569)
    I had one of the original NEO-25 (3/4 the size of a brick) players and it meets most of the apple claimed functionality. And it was old enough they dropped new support for it before this Apple patent was filed. In this case it looks like Apple did not do their homework.

    The NEO-25 supported hierarchical lists (drill down throgh folders of songs, playlists, etc.) And while it did not simultaneoulsy let you drill down by artist, genre, etc. you could certainly arrange things in any of those orders (I had songs, playlists, "xfer" and "misc" as my top level folders). And if you were wearing cargo pants it was pocket-sized. And it fit in my jacket pockets in any case. SSI America was the US importer I bought mine through but there was at least one other branding for the same player. And since it used FAT-32 (or could use FAT-32) you could actually create alias directories and support multiple organization arrangements simultaneously. Which reminds me, I still have to see if the iPod supports aliases/shortcuts/soft links so I can cut down on the number of copies of some songs that appear on multiple albums (where it is the same track, not a remix,live,etc different version).
  • by TheInternet (35082) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:39PM (#8699729) Homepage Journal
    On one hand, Apple created something that is truly easy to use. It deserves some protection so that it can extract revenue and continue to invest in future products that we can enjoy. Copying the iPod's concepts doesn't make the copier a good designer. It only helps consumers in the very short term.

    The fact that Apple will create things and Microsoft copies them enough to fool casual consumers means that most people have more frustrating experiences with computers than they need to. As a result, Apple makes less money for making genuinely good products. If Dell and Microsoft can knock off anything Apple makes to the point that consumers don't see any reason to buy from Apple, Apple can't make money and the good ideas dry up. The industry as a whole takes the hit.

    On the other hand, the concepts in the iPod (which actually incorporate some ideas from NeXT) will eventually become commonplace, so it would be silly to have them protected forever. Some ideas in the iPod are logical conclusions, but some are creative and quite unique.

    This takes a very gentle touch.

    - Scott

Never trust a computer you can't repair yourself.

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