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Apple Sued Over iTunes UI

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  • LOL! (Score:4, Informative)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:50AM (#12872703)
    Specifically, Contois documented 19 interface aspects of the iTunes software that it claims are in direct violation of Contois' patent. These areas include iTunes' menu selection process to allow the user to select music to be played, the ability of the software to transfer music tracks to a portable music player, and search capabilities such as sorting music tracks by their genre, artist and album attributes.

    "By reason of Apple's infringing activities, Contois has suffered, and will continue to suffer, substantial damages in an amount yet to be determined," the suit reads. "On information and belief, Apple's infringement has been and continues to be willful."

    ----

    Yeah. And it's only been out for, what 4 and a half years now (Jan 2001)?
    • Re:LOL! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Decameron81 (628548) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:14PM (#12872986)
      "These areas include iTunes' menu selection process to allow the user to select music to be played, the ability of the software to transfer music tracks to a portable music player, and search capabilities such as sorting music tracks by their genre, artist and album attributes."


      Woah! Those are really neat inventions. Must have required a lot of intellect to bring that intellectual property to paper.

      Go patents go!
    • Re:LOL! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Chris Tucker (302549) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:36PM (#12873176) Homepage
      So daveschroeder sez:

      "Yeah. And it's only been out for, what 4 and a half years now (Jan 2001)?
      Longer, actually.

      Apple bought SoundJam MP from Casady & Greene, and used it as the basis for iTunes. In fact, early version of iTunes have dialog boxes and controls identical to SoundJam, right down to screen placement when they're opened.

      My SoundJam CD has a 1999 copyright date, and the about SoundJam file indicates a 1998 copyright date.

      So poor old Contois, your "patents" have been infringed for far longer than you think, at least for 7 years.

      And what about the software used by the first portible MP3 player, that surely must have infringed some of your patents, and yet, you did nothing about it, it seems, until 2005.

      Indeed, the folks who own and license the rights to USB and FireWire certainly must be liable for SOME damages, what with their reckless aiding and abetting the transfer of bits to and from hard drives and flash RAM in portible MP3 players.

      Such sloth on the part of your legal department surely has earned them all a collective bitchslap!

      I would replace them all instantly! I hear that the SCO legal team will be looking for work soon.

      • by tepples (727027) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [selppet]> on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @01:44PM (#12873996) Homepage Journal

        My SoundJam CD has a 1999 copyright date ... you did nothing about it, it seems, until 2005.

        "Laches" refers to the doctrine that if a patent holder delays legal action against an alleged infringer for long enough to harm the alleged infringer, the patent holder can't collect damages for infringements that occurred prior to legal action. If the patent holder waits at least six years before suing, the judge will almost always apply laches; in that case, a prevailing patent holder can get an injunction against further infringement but can collect only damages for infringements that occurred between the filing of the lawsuit and the injunction.

  • If I were Apple, I'd fight this one in court. I'm not a patent lawyer, but this seems to be a rediculous patent. The primary claims seem to be:

    1. That a computer program can have buttons to start and stop music.
    2. That a computer program can display two or more data fields about that music during play.

    There is another claim about controlling a player piano (!), but that seems irrelevant to this case.

    The problems I see with this patent are:

    1. The claims argued are blatently obvious. It's one step above a patent for displaying and manipulating data on a screen. The only difference is that this adds music! (rolls eyes)
    2. Plenty of prior art exists. For example, MIDI and CD players throughout the 90's were capable of "controlling the playback of music" and "displaying two or more data fields about the song". Not to mention MP3 player that existed prior to January 1999.
    3. The primary focus of the body of the patent is on player piano control. AFAIK, iTunes does not run player pianos.
    4. The patent points to MIDI or a MIDI-like device as the stream being controlled. Digital audio is not a method of controlling a digital instrument, but rather a synthesis of a complete sound environment.

    Perhaps the best reform would be to allow for reprocussions against the patent holder should his patent be found to be issued in error or inapplicablE? For example, if the patent holder was forced to pay court costs, he may think twice before initiating a baseless suit.
    • by mukund (163654) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:58AM (#12872796) Homepage
      The iTunes interface seems to be almost a ditto copy of their interface [appleinsider.com], and they have alleged that persons who were at the time employed by or later became employed by Apple were present at both trade shows and viewed Contois' software.
      • by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:17PM (#12873012) Journal
        And?

        They might have a case for copyright infringement if they can show their ex-employees took the code to Apple. Might even have a case for contract law, if Apple NDA'd to see the software at the trade shows.

        But the patent was applied for in 1999. How long has winamp existed? When winamp first came out, how much information did it display on the screen? How long have ID3 tags been around, with Winamp using them to display song name, artist, title... ooops, we've already passed the two fields in the patent! And the buttons, of course the buttons! Buttons are clearly a novel way to control a computer!

        The patent as described in the abstract would have been a pretty cool invention. "Control a player piano from your computer!" Too bad the patent lawyers sank their teeth into it and turned it into a steaming pile of crap, knowing that the patent office would accept it anyway. "A computer controlled device" in this language could mean anything from a piano to a pair of speakers.... and imagine that, the music comes out my speakers when I hit play in either iTunes or Winamp!
      • The iTunes interface seems to be almost a ditto copy of their interface...

        What's patented is patented I suppose, but having said that, remember: just because you do something first doesn't mean it's patent-worthy!

        Patenting a display of track info? A play button? Please. Where's this "non-obvious" clause that's supposed to be enforced?

    • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:58AM (#12872801)
      Not to mention MP3 player that existed prior to January 1999.

      The patent was granted January 1999. It was actually filed Feb. 13, 1996, so you have to beat that date since that is the priority date and the date from which their 20 year term of protection begins. If you read the claims carefully, it is more than just a simple listing and selection of songs. In order to violate the patent, each and every element of an independent claim has to be present in what is alleged to be infringed upon. It is not as simple as you are making it out to be.

      • MOD4Win [pjeantaud.free.fr] had "multiple data display", "database features", and "music control" in 1993 [hitsquad.com]. Not to mention that NeXTSTEP had the scrolling file chooser interface [wikipedia.org] used by iTunes, many years prior to 1996. If anything, Apple might be able to countersue for this company copying *their* interface!

        Sorry, their arguments aren't holding water. And I still don't see any player pianos. :-/
        • Does MOD4Win control an external music playing device (like a player piano or an iPod)?
          • iTunes doesn't control the iPod either, it just transfers the media to it.

            But you've got me on one thing. I just visited iTunes.com (I don't actually own an iPod, they don't play Ogg), and noticed that iTunes software CAN control an external player:

            Stream Music Wirelessly to Your Home Stereo. With iTunes and an AirPort Express Base Station, you can stream music wirelessly from your Mac or PC to your home stereo or powered speakers.

            This might be a problem...I don't think anyone could argue the iPod


            • and noticed that iTunes software CAN control an external player:

              No, it can't. iTunes can't change the radio station on a stereo. It can't change tracks on a CD that's playing on the stereo. It can't turn the stereo on or off. All that iTunes and Airport Express do is utilize auxilory input jacks, and in order to do so I must first get off my ass, walk over to the stereo, and manually select aux input.

              (tig)
          • Does MOD4Win control an external music playing device (like a player piano or an iPod)?

            No, but neither does iTunes. According to their patent, the software must be capable of "b) sending a data stream from the computer to the computer controlled music device in response to step a) for controlling the playing of the selected song;". Or in other words, the external device must respond directly to the stream provided by the computer device.

            iTunes does no such thing. It merely downloads the music to the player for storage, control, and later playback by the player. i.e. An iPod cannot be reasonably compared with directly controlling a "player piano".
            • No, but neither does iTunes. According to their patent, the software must be capable of "b) sending a data stream from the computer to the computer controlled music device in response to step a) for controlling the playing of the selected song;". Or in other words, the external device must respond directly to the stream provided by the computer device.

              Actually, now it does. See the Airport Express [apple.com], which allows you to send a stream of music to a remote device or stereo.
        • For Apple (and derivatives such as NeXTSTEP), the scolling file chooser interface can traced back at least as far as 1985 or so. Andy Hertzfeld developed an alternate version of Finder for the Macintosh called Servant [wired.com]. Apple purchased the rights from Andy.
      • Windows 3.1 (or was it Creative Labs'?) had a midi player whose buttons could be compared to today's winamp. The format of the music being played is irrelevant.
      • In order to violate the patent, each and every element of an independent claim has to be present in what is alleged to be infringed upon.

        That would make their case pretty flimsy:

        3. A method of enabling a user to select a song, which is stored in a music data base, that will be played on a player piano that is controlled by a computer

        • No, every element of each claim. Claim 3 is independent of Claim 1 and Claim 2, but apparently not independent of 4 and 5, the way this patent is written.
    • by CaymanIslandCarpedie (868408) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:59AM (#12872825) Journal
      Yeah, my favorite line in the patents is:
      The invention resides not in any one of these features per se, but rather in the particular combination of all of them herein disclosed and claimed and it is distinguished from the prior art in this particular combination of all of its structures for the functions specified.

      So they admit they haven't invented anything, but they got a patent because of the amazingly innovative combination of those features like choosing a track combined with then playing the track. WOW!!!!!!!!
      • That's how patents work though. I could take that a step further and say "So they admit they haven't invented anything, but they got a patent because of an amazingly innovative combination of 1's and 0's, which have been public-domain for years". New combinations of things are a staple of engineering, and science (and patents).

        -Jesse
      • So they admit they haven't invented anything, but they got a patent because of the amazingly innovative combination of those features

        That's the nature of all inventions though.

        Even mechanical ones. Almost everything can be described as some combination of the mechanical primitives we call "classical simple machines": wheels, levers, inclined planes, etc.
      • So they admit they haven't invented anything, but they got a patent because of the amazingly innovative combination of those features.

        That's exactly how patents work. A patent can be simply a (purportedly novel) integration of existing technology, and many are just that. A patent gives you absolutely no right to any technologies it employs. The only right a patent grants is a right to exclude. For example, I could discover that a combination of Wonder Drug A and Wonder Drug B cures cancer. Say WDA

    • I'm guessing the patent holder's primary argument will be that the situation is unique because it involves music "on a computer". Even better, they could say "music on the internet". Those seem to be the buzzwords behind many ridiculous patents covering obvious things. This patent seems designed to be an all-purpose digital music patent to be used against anyone creating an electronic UI for anything music related at all.
    • I'm not a patent lawyer, but this seems to be a rediculous patent.

      I'm not a patent lawyer either, but I'd like to point out that "rediculous" is not a disqualifying characteristic for a patent.

      Plenty of prior art exists. For example, MIDI and CD players throughout the 90's were capable of "controlling the playback of music" and "displaying two or more data fields about the song".

      But not on a computer. Those MIDI and CD players throughout the 90s would have also been patentable (and I'm sure they're

    • I can't believe the guts of this lawyer

      In the end it's the lawyers that win. What guts? Either way the case turns out the lawyers gat paid.

      The winner of this one is obvious. The Lawyers. The loosers are anyone who has to pay for the lawyers.
    • If you were Apple, you would not fight this in court. Settling out of court, paying a patent license fee, or cross-licensing are all far less expensive than fighting this in court and, therefore, much more attractive ways to deal with this nuisance. Each of these outcomes individually or collectively are more likely to occur than seeing this through to the end in court.

      Remember one of the examples we learned about in RMS' discussion of the problem with software patents [gnu.org] (transcript [cam.ac.uk]): Briefly, Paul Heckel

      • 1. Never point me to RMS as a source for legal advice. You're only going to annoy me, and still fail to make your point.

        2. Legal battles are not always expensive. Most large corporations keep lawyers on staff anyway, so it never hurts to see if you can get the judge to make a speedy decision. If the case shows signs of dragging out and costing the company huge amounts of money, *then* a settlement can always be reconsidered. If the other party doesn't want to settle (which is almost never the case in a bas
  • Bullshit patent. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mrseigen (518390) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:51AM (#12872715) Homepage Journal
    Anyone heard of a damn jukebox?
  • Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FuzzzyLogik (592766) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:52AM (#12872730) Homepage
    This seems to cover not only iTunes but WinAMP, FooBar2000, and just about any other player that can organize music and play only selected artists, albums, or genre's.

    This my friends is why we don't like software patents.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Winterblink (575267)
      We don't, people who win lawsuits based on precedents allowed by stupid laws love them.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) *
      This seems to cover not only iTunes but WinAMP, FooBar2000, and just about any other player that can organize music and play only selected artists, albums, or genre's.

      Except that WinAMP was released in 1997 and the patent was filed in 1999. Not to mention the original MP3 Player, WinPlay3 [sonicspot.com], which had been released several years prior. There's nothing wrong with the current patent system, just that the existing rules need to be better enforced. The attempts to invalidate patents through a review process ar
      • by Scaba (183684)

        The patent was filed in 1996. RTFPF.

      • The attempts to invalidate patents through a review process are the most promising to date.

        Patents need to be published for public comments upon submission. This is the only feasible way to deal with incompetent patent examiners.
    • Live by sword.... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JavaNPerl (70318) *
      I believe the patent is BS and the lawsuit as well but, if I recall correctly Apple has sued several companies for copying the "look and feel" of Apple products, and those cases IMHO had about just as much merit.
  • Good ! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shades66 (571498) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:53AM (#12872732)

    Maybe if enough big companies get shafted through patent lawsuits they may consider working to get rid of software patents.

    But then again....
    • Re:Good ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gorbachev (512743) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:03PM (#12872870) Homepage
      Never happen.

      Their thinking is that if we get MORE software patents, the costs will offset and we win.

      It's fundamentally just an arms race, where the one with the biggest wallet wins and consumers always lose.
    • Re:Good ! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by johnbeat (685167)
      Big companies don't get shafted even when they get hit by lawsuits like this. Apple will either win in court, or they will pay the fee for using the patent, or they will find some way around the patent.

      Apple, Microsoft, and other established businesses can afford the lawyers, the fee, and/or the extra programming time. Lawsuits like this are just one of the costs of doing business.

      For established companies an out-of-control patent system is useful, despite the costs. It helps block competition by increasi
  • why software patents are good?
    • It is not Software patents that are good and evil it is how they are used.
      I would support software patents for specialized complex algorithms like data compressions, encrtyption, and other back end information which other people can make a competing product, but not with the same algorithem. But for things like interface Patents are pritty silly because they are often created whenever the needs arises and no genious is needed to create it just happends to do what they need it to do.
    • Well, let's assume you're a young geek, full of great ideas.

      What you will learn by the time you get to be an old geek is that you can't eat ideas. Even if you have a nearly endless supply of ideas, putting bread on the table with them requires a whole bunch of things you probably aren't as richly supplied with:

      * Dedication

      * Vision

      * Experience/Judgement

      * Cunning

      * Persuasiveness

      * Guts

      * Capital

      Basically, what I'm saying is that ideas are like the air we breath: essential, but economically speaking, n
  • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:53AM (#12872736) Homepage
    bath water.

    If the child is a brat, you discipline the child. If the child tries to stab you to death for disciplining it, you put the child in a mental ward for safe observation and help. If when the child (or in this case patent industry) is mature and tries it again, society prescribes the death penalty (in the US). Why shouldn't the patent system be any different?

    The big IT corporations don't need patents to maintain their control because they are in a unique position to crush upstarts that few industries have. They industry as a whole has proven that they can't use them responsibly and the very fact that a hobbyist can turn their hobby into a business means that patents are bad. I'm sorry, but the ends justify the means here. Patent holders have time and again proven that milking their work and not innovating is their real goal, at least in IT. It's time that the entire system be flushed out and simplified.
    • Why shouldn't the patent system be any different?

      Because the system is run by the governemnt, which is run by the corporations, which make profits off of the patents.

      It's like not giving the baby a death penalty because having the baby makes you eligible for welfare.
      • Because the system is run by the governemnt, which is run by the corporations, which make profits off of the patents.

        Corporations do profoundly influence government, but they don't run it. Much of what government does, it does on its own. No viable corporation would run an operation so inefficiently as the government of the United States.

        -kgj
    • I agree wholeheartedly. The sad thing is that there is not even the slightest bit of this nation's original intent in place in our government or even our people. Individual liberty is simply no longer as important as group power.

      We individual citizens are but the lowlings in a feudal system. Corporations and goverment organizastions are the lords. It may sound a bit dramatic since many of us lead pretty good lives, but it is only because we are grudgingly allowed to, it is no longer an inalienable righ
  • Sweet! (Score:2, Funny)

    by ||Deech|| (16749)
    Does this mean I can draw pictures "proving" the similarities between my software "Player of Media" and sue a certain large company for damages? I mean, I have drawings!

    • No; you have to have prior work and/or previous selling or patenting/copyright/trademark (or be in the process of).
      • Yes, Yes. I know.

        It was a joke. Did you see that "exibit", complete with a funny drawing of Liberace? I just found that "proof" hilarious.

  • Patent Text (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rampant mac (561036) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:56AM (#12872781)
    " Computer control system and user interface for media playing devices

    Abstract

    A computer system and method for controlling a media playing device. The system provides a user interface for allowing a user access to media pieces stored in a media database. The interface is also for controlling a media playing device, like a player piano or movie playing video device, that is coupled to the computer to play the accessed or selected piece of media. In one embodiment there is a computer interface that allows a user to display only music that relates to a selected category, like jazz or classical music. Another embodiment allows the user to direct the media playing device to automatically play selected music pieces that are related to a selected music category. Another embodiment allows a user to direct the media playing device to automatically play selected music pieces that are related to the selected music composer or artist."

    My only question is: Where are the lawsuits against Microsoft's WMP, Realplayer, the Microsoft XBox Media Player, MusicMatch, etc?

    iTunes has been out for over 4 years, and just now there's a lawsuit? I understand it takes time to find a lawyer that will accept a case, but *4* years? Hmmm, right at the height of popularity too, kinda amazing how it worked out like that...

    • Re:Patent Text (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hhawk (26580)
      In the mid 80's (if not earlier) 85 or 86, you could hook a MAC with Hypercard to a Video DISC player (analog) and via serial connection use button and other methods in the Hypercard "stack" to control the play back of sound, music, video, etc.
  • The patent points are generally vague and do seem to apply to other players. However, looking at the image at the bottom of the article, the two interfaces are strikingly similar. Add to that the fact that apple employees had been to the demo of this player the case may stand up a bit more.
    • What's the major similarity? The three-column browser at the top of the window? That's basically just a Miller-column browser, like the Finder's 'Column View', but designed for music. Miller-column browsers have been around forever. NeXTStep had one in 1988. This is an obvious application.
    • Add to that the fact that apple employees had been to the demo of this player the case may stand up a bit more.

      So does that mean that if you ever see something presented at a developer's conference, say SIGGRAPH, then you are automatically prevented from ever using any information that you saw there? This would mean that you would never be able to develop 2D or 3D image processing software ever again for having attended SIGGRAPH because some slimeball would have a patent on something that was presented a
  • "the ability of the software to transfer music tracks to a portable music player"

    Funny, WMP and Musicmatch allow this functionality, among others. I wonder why they weren't sued....

    Smells fishy to me. Targetting the big kahuna rather than the concept.... I don't like it one bit. Yet another lawsuit that reeks of collusion.

    I spoke of tit-for-tat earlier in the day. Here is another fine example of tit [thinksecret.com]-for-tat [appleinsider.com].
  • by CrownFive (20763) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:58AM (#12872804) Homepage
    I wonder if this might be a case of prior art from 1995?
    http://www.soton.ac.uk/~newrep/vol13/no4news.html [soton.ac.uk]

    Scroll down to the article "Jukebox is a sound success"

    Does anyone have any more details about this? Does it cover the same claims as the Contois patent?
  • by rueger (210566) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:59AM (#12872816) Homepage
    Liberace has a bowtie in both pictures [appleinsider.com]. That's enough to convince me!

    Then again I also voted to acquit Michael Jackson...
    • by Tanlis (304135)
      Except if you look at their diagram, the selection is on Frank Mills.

      So they can't be the same if one is Frank Mills and the other is Liberace.

      Sound logic isn't it? :D
  • by amichalo (132545) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:02PM (#12872857)
    Part of the basis of the infringement is that people who would eventually work for Apple, but didn't at the time, attended a trade show where this dude was exhibiting.

    The implication is that they saw his app and were so entralled at his genious to organize music by Genere, then artist, and finally album, that they quit their jobs, convinced Apple to hire them, and then applied such unique cataloging skills to iTunes.
    • his genious to organize music by Genere, then artist, and finally album

      Yeah, because you know that no one had ever thought of organizing music by genre, or much less ARTIST, before then!
    • Part of the basis of the infringement is that people who would eventually work for Apple, but didn't at the time, attended a trade show where this dude was exhibiting.

      The implication is that they saw his app and were so entralled at his genious to organize music by Genere, then artist, and finally album, that they quit their jobs, convinced Apple to hire them, and then applied such unique cataloging skills to iTunes.


      What I'd like to see is Apple's barracud...err, lawyers say is "How do you know those peo
      • doesn't really matter. it either infringes or it doesn't and litigating it is a crapshoot. if apple knows they infringe then they would have to prove the patent invalid. No one likes to do that when they're facing a jury of housewives.
  • Similar... (Score:5, Funny)

    by cobrabyte (626911) <cobrabyte@mac . c om> on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:05PM (#12872894)
    I thought (before RTFA) this was going to be another slam-shut case for Apple...

    But I do have to admit that the two referenced images look eerily similar ... they both have a play button and I just won't stand for that kind of blatant idea-stealing.

    -c
  • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rick Zeman (15628) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:06PM (#12872904)

    Contois is seeking a trial by jury.


    ...so they can befuddle the technologically ignorant into delivering a favorable verdict.
  • by josepha48 (13953)
    I didn't think you could patent a UI. WTF!

    Why did they wait so long to sue? They want in on the money!

  • I've seen someone mention this before on Slashdot in some similar situation. IANAL but it basically seems to prevent someone from sitting around and allowing patent or copyright infringement until the infringer is generating a decent amount of income THEN suing them. Perhaps someone who really is a lawyer could fill in a little here. Would it apply in this case? If so it's a word all Slashdotters should know. :-)

    -Don.
  • by MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:12PM (#12872965)
    Nearly every software patent I have ever seen is bogus.

    Apple is getting its just deserts from supporting the software patent system.
  • Prior Art?? (Score:5, Informative)

    by stang7423 (601640) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:14PM (#12872978)

    Okay Here is the deal. iTunes is based on a MP3 player application Apple bought from Casady & Greene called Soundjam MP. Apple bought this app in 2001 and re-designed it into iTunes. Casady & Greene first released Sound Jam MP Two years before Apple bought them. So that would put the desing of the app at about the same time the patent was issued.

    Just to clarify my above facts a little bit, Casady & Greene published SoundJam they weren't the developers. So it looks like the individuals that may or may not have been privy to the deep dark secrets of this patent originally cam from the SoundJam developer team.

    now by no means was SoundJam the first MP3 player on the market, so there is going to be prior art all over this.

  • by rpdillon (715137) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:15PM (#12872992) Homepage
    I'm posting a bit late, but I read the entire patent. I'm not getting this - it seems like a stretch. They basically focus on the idea of a computer interface controlling a seperate "media player" type device, insofar as that involves making the device play certain music (or media) while being controlled from the computer. In the summary section, they say:

    It is a feature of the invention to provide a computer user interface. The interface is for providing a user access to media pieces stored in a media database. The interface is also for controlling a media playing device, like a player piano or movie playing video device, that is coupled to the computer to play the accesses or selected piece of media.

    It is another feature of the invention to provide a computer interface that allows a user to display only music that relates to a selected category, like jazz or classical. Where the user is then able to direct the media playing device to automatically play the selected music pieces related to the selected music categories.

    A further feature of the invention is to provide a computer interface that allows a user to display music selections that are related only to a selected composer, like Duke Ellington or Gershwin. Where the user is then able to direct the media playing device to automatically play the selected music pieces related to the selected music composer.

    Another feature of the invention is to provide a computer interface that allows a user to display only music that is related to a selected artist, like Dave Contois, or your own personal recordings. Where the user is then able to direct the media playing device to automatically play the selected music pieces related to the selected music artist.

    Another feature of the invention is to provide a computer interface that allows a user to display only music that is related to a selected song or music piece, like Alexander's Rag Time Band or Andante & Rondo Capriciosso, Op. 14. Where the user is then able to direct the media playing device to automatically play the selected music piece.

    A feature of the invention is also to provide a computer system that can access others media recording data bases from other sources like internet or world wide web.

    It goes on and on like this. But this is the kicker:

    The invention resides not in any one of these features per se, but rather in the particular combination of all of them herein disclosed and claimed and it is distinguished from the prior art in this particular combination of all of its structures for the functions specified.
    (Emphasis mine)

    Now, that annoys me, because they basically admit that there is tons of prior art for this stuff, and what makes their patent special is that it combines it all. Which would be fine, for example in the case of a "player piano" as they describe. But the iPod/iTunes system hardly describes a computer controlling a media player device to playback media. I would argue the controls for the iPod are , on the iPod itself. All iTunes does it supply music for download and transfer those songs, which are not then played automatically as they so many times describe, but rather are played when selected, and only after the player is disconnected from the computer, i.e. not controlled by the computer.

    The ITMS certainly uses their method of selecting media (just like every other media player on the planet), but does not do so to select which songs to automatically play on an attached media device - merely to decide which songs to buy, or in the case of the iTunes software, which songs to transfer. Buying, transferring and playing are different. The patent is for playing.

    Personally, I think software patents are ridiculous, but if they want to sue for infringement, it better at least be a match. They only mention the internet (or a remote database) tangentially in their patent, and don't even provide an example. I'm say Apple can take them to court and win.

  • who is funding their lawsuit?

    I wonder if REAL or MS has "invested" anything in this company recently?

    The only reason SCO could hold out as long as it did was with money from MS.

  • Unfortunately this case would not make it to court outside of the US because all the UI does is list things by category with a field for cover art and throw on a few buttons... I have a Hypercard stack circa 1988 that does almost exactly the same thing for sampled sounds! The BS here is that both patent and TM in the US discounts prior use, so guys like this can appear...

    As a side point, I worked with Tim Wasko on the Vendor System (used by TypeOnCall, SoftwareDispatch...) before 1995 and a LOT of the UIs
  • Am I the only one that finds it mildly ironic that Apple also has a patent for the iTunes UI? [macobserver.com] Granted the patent was awarded only last year, so depending on the results of this (crap) it could in theory be revoked.
  • It is time to kill of patents as they are today, because they do not work as they intended. If something has failed, you have to replace it.
  • by millahtime (710421) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:26PM (#12873091) Homepage Journal
    In a world where Paris Hilton can trademark the words, "That's Hot" does this suprise anyone
  • by mpaque (655244) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:31PM (#12873133)
    I suspect that his sketch won't do so well in the courts. That both designs display using a Miller column browser (with different content!) and can show an image won't be sufficient.

    Design patents prohibit a third-party from making, selling or using a product of the protected design. To infringe a design patent, the infringing container and the container shape shown in the design patent must look alike to the eye of the ordinary observer.

    In Gorham v. White (1871), the Supreme Court set the standard for design patent infringement:

    "If, in the eye of an ordinary observer, giving such attention as a purchaser usually gives, two designs are substantially the same, if the resemblance is such as to deceive such an observer, inducing him to purchase one supposing it to be the other, the first one patented is infringed by the other."

    Just having similar functions and a vaguely similar appearance is not sufficient, as shown by the amusing "Colida v. Sharp Electronics and Audiovox" (Fed. Cir. March 9, 2005):

    http://patentlaw.typepad.com/patent/2005/03/design _patents_.html [typepad.com]

    The functional features described in a design patent are not particularly relevant. (They would be in a functional patent, of course.) To infringe on a design patent, the infringing product has to look so much like his sketch that the infringing product would deceive the customer into thinking it was the patented product.

    An example of a product which might be found to infringe on a well-known design patent might be:

    http://www2.luxpro.com.tw/e_575d.htm [luxpro.com.tw]
  • by Chris Tucker (302549) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:50PM (#12873371) Homepage
    ...their patents back in the 1980s.

    SIDPlayer and SID Symphony on the Commodore 64.

    The 64 could control a MDI device, it could transfer MIDI data from one device to another via it's serial line, it could even move digital music from the C64 to a portible music player (A Walkman cassette player) via the sound out port and a patch cable.

    Sounds like a WHOLE lot of WAY prior art to me.
  • by rpdillon (715137) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:50PM (#12873380) Homepage
    Wow. This patent is something. They bascially outline a restrictive collection of elements to the patent (like a seperate media player, like a "player piano"), "automatic" control of the media player device, a computer controlled UI, and a database system used to filter results much the way a standard MP3/WMA/gg directory structure would look (I think filesystems count as databases). Then, they bust out with language like:

    One skilled in the art will recognize that it is not essential to have the computer system separate from the media playing device. It is conceivable to have the computer system physically incorporated in part or in whole into the media playing device.

    It is noted that the embodiment of the invention discusses the use of a standard known computer, where in fact all components of the computer can be replaced with any new advancing technologies, like holographics or voice activated systems and still not depart from the intent of the invention of allowing easier user access to the underlying media data base information.

    The preferred embodiment of the invention discusses the control of only a single media playing device, like a player piano. However, one skilled in the art would easily understand how to simultaneously control several media playing devices with the same control system in view of this disclosure. For example, the coordination of the control of a player piano along with a music video is contemplated.

    Although this embodiment focuses upon the application of the software to control a player piano or video player, one skilled in the art will realize that this software interface could be used on any media playing device where a user needs to select what media item is to be played from a vast media data base. For example, it is contemplated to operate an electric guitar, a computer controlled multimedia system, a pipe organ, a television, a movie video player, or a computer screen.

    Wow. So the player doesn't even have to be outside of the computer. So, iTunes, Zinf (Freeamp), Winamp, Windows Media Player, XMMS, Amarok, RhythmBox, GStreamer, well, just about every media player infringes. Even the holographic, voice-activated system that controls 73 copies of Winamp over the net infringes. Heck, if I use an interface to control playback of something on my computer screen, it infringes (assuming a filesystem counts as a database, which it should). I'm sure several million software writers would be interested to know about this. After reading the whole patent, I'm not really sure what, exactly, if anything, they are patenting. I know it has to do with media, and playback, and maybe something about automatic, but beyond that, I'm lost. Is it on a computer? How about an iPod? Does a stereo count? Is it over the internet? Are the interface and the player seperate, or not? What is a player? Is it a screen, a TV, a Playstation, a pair of speakers, or none (or all) of those?

    I though patents were for implementations, not abstract, all-encompassing ideas...

    In other news, 5 year-old Sally Jones was sued by Steven Olson of St. Paul, MN, after being observed in her backyard swinging in a way [uspto.gov] such that she infringed on his patent. He is claiming damages of over $1 million.

  • iTunes history (Score:3, Informative)

    by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:58PM (#12873480) Homepage Journal
    For those coming late to the saga here is some relevant mp3 player background:
    1. Justin Frankel writes WinAmp, a nice free little Windows mp3 player that helps set off the mp3 revolution. AOL eventually buys it for oodles of $$$ and after lots of drama loses much of the development team & lets WinAmp languish.
    2. SoundJam was written for the Mac by Bill Kincaid & Jeff Robbin. You can find a bit of history on it here [panic.com].
    3. It's competitor on the Mac was Audion, their story here [panic.com].
    4. SoundJam was eventually licensed to distributor house Cassidy & Green & and becomes SoundJam MP.
    5. MS keeps upgrading Media Center to show off MS technologies and compete with Apple's limited QuickTime Player application.
    6. Real is doing the same, if less successfully.
    7. Apple goes shopping for an mp3 player to jumpstart their internal development. As Audion was already in talks with AOL for a Mac counterpart to WinAmp they weren't attractive.
    8. Apple buys SoundJam MP from Cassidy & Green, hires Jeff Robbin as a developer, and a few months later it's descendant iTunes is born (Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org]).
    9. iTunes is brought to MacOS X.
    10. Apple introduces the iPod as the portable compliment to iTunes - their close integration is considored a key factor in it's success.
    11. iTunes is brought cross-platform by porting chunks of Apple's UI & taking advantage of the already existing QuickTime for Windows tools.
    12. Cassidy & Green closes.
    13. the iTunes Store is rolled out offering the ability to download music from 5 big companies.
    14. Steve Jobs announces the next version of iTunes will support Podcasting (a 3rd party quickly adds this onto the Windows version.)
    15. Rumor has it a future version of iTunes will support a store for video.

  • No Infringement Here (Score:5, Informative)

    by Geek Yid (798534) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @01:00PM (#12873499) Homepage
    I was a patent examiner a number of years ago. I knew (and occasionally still keep up with) the promary examiner on this patent. He does good work, and seems to have done alright here. (He actually has an interesting hobby, documented at http://www.bigsteel.iwarp.com/ [iwarp.com].)

    A quick reading of independent claim 1 pretty much eliminates any question of infringment, i.e., there is none. It reads:

    "1. A computer user interface menu selection process for allowing the user to select music to be played on a music device controlled by a computer ..." including "e) playing the selected song item ... on the computer responsive music device."

    When last I checked, the iPod was not controlled, i.e., told to play a song, by the computer hosting the iTunes software. Without that step, the patent is not infringed. Period.

    I want to point out one more thing. The patent in question is not a design patent, but a utility patent. Design patents have identifiers that always begin with "D" and they pertain only to the appearance of something, not to what the patented thing does.

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