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Patents Media Media (Apple)

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 @02:01AM (#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).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:12AM (#8694196)
    Unless I'm missing something this patent covers something that is already public knowledge (the IPOD interface), which (under aus law at least) isn't patentable. Of course this depends on the filing date of the patent.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:13AM (#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...
  • Re:Question (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:16AM (#8694212)
    If it issues as is (which is unlikely) then they will have protection for what is listed in the claims section, nothing more, nothing less.
  • 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).
  • Re:Question (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cesare Ferrari (667973) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:25AM (#8694254) Homepage
    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:Maybe, maybe not (Score:5, Informative)

    by servoled (174239) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:29AM (#8694271)
    Actually this claims priority to US provisional application No. 60/399,806 which was filed July 30, 2002.

    US Patent law also gives the inventors a year after the invention is made public to file an application without the public knowledge of that invention being held against the inventors. After 1 year, the invention would be rejected under 35 USC 102(b) [cornell.edu].
  • Re:How's this bad? (Score:3, Informative)

    by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:36AM (#8694304)
    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 music files in the same menu structure as an iPod.

    The writers of the program are ripping off Apple's design work, and not even trying to hide the fact that they did so. This application may be the forerunner to a court case...
  • Combination Patent (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:48AM (#8694354)
    There's nothing wrong with what Apple is doing in patenting all those technologies because they combined them into one box. If my neighor patents the pencil, and my other neighbor patents the eraser, but I put them together, I'm allowed to patent the pencil-with-builtin-eraser. I believe it's called a combination patent.
  • Re:Good for them (Score:3, Informative)

    by servoled (174239) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:08AM (#8694418)
    The link in the story is straight to the app. Here's another one to save needless scrolling as you read this: 2004/055446A1 [uspto.gov]
  • by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:28AM (#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.
  • by Insolence2003 (766063) <Insolence2003NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:40AM (#8694657)

    I just wanted to comment that the Staircase they have a patent for is the staircase design in every two-story Apple Store. I have been to four of them, and each with this exact design. (did anyone realize this?)

    I don't see this design patent all that funny... it's a unique design that is used in the real world. =) Very cool if you ask me!

    Go Apple!

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

    by tyrione (134248) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:45AM (#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 tyrione (134248) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:02AM (#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 Lars T. (470328) <Lars.TraegerNO@SPAMgooglemail.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:03AM (#8694723) Journal
    Nope, they lost the case against Microsoft because they previosly allowed MS to use the look-and-feel. The judge decided that this not only covered apps written for the Mac ("We can't write an app for the Mac if you don't allow us to use your look-and-feel") but also anything else ("... so we can then use it for our cheap knock-off").
  • by The Infamous Grimace (525297) <emailpsc@gmail.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:11AM (#8694878) Homepage

    they havent done anything innovative. they follow everyone else.


    Can you say 'FireWire'? I knew you could.

    (tig)
  • by servoled (174239) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:17AM (#8694894)
    To copy and paste a previous post of mine which replied to an AC which brought up the same point:

    Actually this claims priority to US provisional application No. 60/399,806 which was filed July 30, 2002.

    US Patent law also gives the inventors a year after the invention is made public to file an application without the public knowledge of that invention being held against the inventors. After 1 year, the invention would be rejected under 35 USC 102(b).
  • by sidles (735901) <jasidles@@@gmail...com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:32AM (#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 blorg (726186) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @09:16AM (#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 2nd Post! (213333) <.gundbear. .at. .pacbell.net.> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:35AM (#8695678) Homepage
    It was so non obvious, that no one else did it until Apple's iPod!

    Have you used an iPod? Have you used Apple's Finder? Specifically it's 'column view'? They're the same. You drill down a hierarchical list via columns of objects, until you get to the object you want. The only prior art I can think of is... NeXTStep's Workspace explorer (whatever they called it)... and Apple's Finder in OS X.

    It is totally non obvious, Apple's implementation, and it's genius in it's simplicity.
  • by 2nd Post! (213333) <.gundbear. .at. .pacbell.net.> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:40AM (#8695708) Homepage
    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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:42AM (#8695720)
    Here's a company (Apple) that has developers who rewrite entire graphics subsystems a few weeks before "ROM freeze"; assembly gurus who can fit an entire OS into a little fucking chip, and yet is apparently petrified by the threat of Microsoft revoking the license to "SoftBASIC". A goddamn BASIC interpreter, for fuck sakes. Right.

    OMG, why do I have the impression that you were definitely not "old enough" (or even born?!?) in the early '80s? You really don't get it, do you?

    At the time, the Apple II was still the main (even the only) money maker for Apple. Forget the Apple III or the Lisa.

    And for the Apple II to work, you needed AppleSoft BASIC, made by M$. No AppleSoft, no Apple II, and no money to finance development of the Lisa and of the Macintosh -- heck, even no money to keep the company alive!

    So much software was written that was taking advantage of every little routine in ROM, that was calling them *directly* (read: NO APIs, no insulation of the underlying code from the outside, like what you saw in the Mac's ROMs!) that you just could not replace AppleSoft with anything else. You lost AppleSoft, you lost your whole software base!!!
  • Re:Question (Score:4, Informative)

    by alangmead (109702) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @12:18PM (#8696190)

    Of course, elements of the automotive UI were patented, the most famous be the intermittent wipers patent [inc.com]. Many aspects of early telephone and telegraph dials [privateline.com] were patented.

  • by crackshoe (751995) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:34PM (#8697270)
    Or gigabit ethernet (dating back to the first rev dual g4's and standard in most PowerMac's now?
  • Re:Familiar names... (Score:3, Informative)

    by _UnderTow_ (86073) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:42PM (#8699087)
    The program that I'm currently using, which I mentioned above, does use ID3 metadata to organize the music. and has for at least the last four years. And IMO it does it in a much better way that itunes.

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