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Apple Sued Over Fundamental iTunes Model 257

Posted by Zonk
from the who-says-patent-reform-isn't-working dept.
tuxgeek writes "A suit was filed Wednesday against Apple over the possibility that the iTunes music store and iPod are 'illegally using a patented method for distributing digital media over the Internet.' ZapMedia Services filed the suit, accusing the well-known OS and computer manufacturer of violating patents obtained just recently. 'The patents in question cover a way of sending music and other digital content from servers to multiple media players, a broad description that could also apply to a wide swath of other companies selling digital media and the devices to play it. ZapMedia said it met with Apple to discuss licensing, but Apple rebuffed the offer.'"
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Apple Sued Over Fundamental iTunes Model

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  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:03PM (#22739954)
    ... that there's a special place in hell for patent trolls.
  • by orclevegam (940336) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:05PM (#22739984) Journal
    I wonder how many more ridiculous lawsuits like this need to be brought before the government finally wakes up and realizes software patents are a bad idea.
    • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:17PM (#22740158)
      When some politician's company or favorite product gets killed because of patent trolls. The best bet everyone has is that Blackberry is brought down by a patent troll with an obviously idiotic patent. It got close the last time, but wasn't quite enough. Sadly, only personal pain will convince politician's that something's worth taking up.
      • Well, Al Gore is on the BOD of Apple, Inc. Whether your a Gore fan or foe you have to admit that if he really wanted he may be able to sway certain people in certain Government agencies.

        He may have a already stepped in to protect Jobs on Stock Option back dating. Other CEOs were fined and forced to resign for the same tactics and Jobs was spared.

        --
        I want to Patent the process of filing a Troll Patent.
      • by sconeu (64226)
        That already happened. It was all over the news (and Slashdot). It cost RIM $600M, even when the patents were overturned during the trial -- the judge still forced RIM to settle.
      • by terraformer (617565) <tpb@pervici.com> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:13PM (#22740848) Journal
        Ahhh... They almost did and you want to know what your knights in shining armor did? They exempted themselves from having to abide by the patent (effectively telling RIM that they could continue to service the US Govt) and basically told the rest of us we could go screw. A few weeks later RIM settled for $385 million or so. So what was that idea again?
        • Yup. I remember that part - and the almost is the key word. Unless RIM is forced into bankruptcy by some stupid patent, has to turn off all blackberries and all services, and its parts are dismembered by creditor vultures, politicians won't do a thing. Paying $385 million wasn't enough. RIM has to die before anything gets even looked at.
    • I wonder how many more ridiculous lawsuits like this need to be brought before the government finally wakes up and realizes software patents are a bad idea.


      It will take exactly 27 more.
    • The moment a big gov't contractor (or the gov't itself) gets burned by a patent troll, we have a chance of change.
      • Nope. The government will just appropriate the patents, while a government contractor will ask the CIA and NSA to secretly eve-drop what the company's board and nail them talking to high-priced escort.
        Or if all else fails, nail the CEO with fraud like they did to Qwest.

        No, it will involve a patent troll being roundly beaten in court battles by a large IBM, and their lawyers being disbarred. Their CEO is undressed in court and forced to handover clothes as part of settlement in addition to long jail time.

        I d
    • I'm not convinced that there's any essential difference between software and business method patents and regular patents, they all say "I own this knowledge". Software is just a new enough field to make it very obvious that a particular piece of knowledge can originate from multiple sources.

      Perhaps independent invention (regardless of being first) should be a valid defense against infringement suits, and maybe it should even invalidate the patent (especially if it happens multiple times).

      Perhaps the obv

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by samkass (174571)
        I agree that the term "obvious to a practitioner in the art" needs to be more narrowly defined, but the problem with basing obviousness on what seems obvious later is that a lot of things seem obvious after-the-fact that were in fact fairly innovative. In addition, once a patent is published it's very hard to prove independent invention, since the knowledge is now "out there". The whole point of patents is to make openly publishing more attractive than keeping trade secrets so the industry can move forwar
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LaughingCoder (914424)

      I wonder how many more ... before the government finally wakes up and realizes
      You are operating under a false premise. The government *never* wakes up and realizes anything. It is up to the people to wake up and throw the bums out.
    • I wonder how many more ridiculous lawsuits like this need to be brought before the government finally wakes up and realizes software patents are a bad idea.


      You sir, are an optimist.
  • by Solandri (704621) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:12PM (#22740072)
    Distributing media files over the Internet to devices in your home. Wow, I never would've thought of it!
  • by Dekortage (697532) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:12PM (#22740090) Homepage

    From the article: "When someone takes our vision and our intellectual property without a license after several attempts, we have no option but to protect it through every means available to us," Robert Frohwein, ZapMedia's general counsel, said in a statement.

    Apple took their vision? iTunes has been out since January 2001 -- and based on 1999 software released by a third-party that Apple acquired -- and NOW somebody says it was theirs? Please. The only reason ZapMedia lacks vision is because they've got their heads up their sunless parts.

    • by onefriedrice (1171917) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:39PM (#22740426)
      I don't want to come off as supporting patent trolls, but I read the article and this is an honest question. You say that iTunes came about in 2001, but this was before the iTunes Music Store which seems to be the issue. Furthermore, does the fact that ZapMedia apparently applied for the patents as early as 1999 mean that patent protection covers since the applications date? If so (although I believe the patent(s) themselves are bogus), it seems they might have a case in our messed-up system. But I don't really know anything about patents, so whatever.
    • by Pontiac (135778) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:43PM (#22740466) Homepage
      Yes Itunes was based on SoundJam MP released in 1999 but that was just an MP player that Apple re-tagged as Itunes 1.0 in 2001

      It was not until Version 4 that the Itunes store was added allowing distribution of music in 2003.

      This patent is all about distribution and was filed in 2000.

      So apple might have a real issue here.. I hope not..

      Information gathered from the ever reliable Wikipedia.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by teknopurge (199509)
      You clipped from the article but you didn't read it, did you.

      They were just granted the patent on Tuesday. Would you have rather they filed suit before the USPTO finished the paperwork? The patent was applied for years ago. Yes, it takes years to get a patent.
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:13PM (#22740106) Journal
    Have a look at:

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/08/03/12/apple_sued_over_foundation_to_ipod_itunes_franchise.html [appleinsider.com]

    ZapMedia claims in its suit that after filing for the patent, they went around to various tech companies - Apple included - and pitched the idea in great detail. This was before the launch of the iPod or iTunes.

    I still think this shouldn't be a patentable thing, but the suit is less wildly without merit than the article linked in this story would suggest.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Black-Man (198831)
      Please... the diagram and description looked like somebody spent about 30 minutes in Visio. And this "patent" was drawn up during the heyday of Napster, so it wasn't like it was any sort of original idea at the time. Troll.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jedidiah (1196)
        I am sure that people came up with ideas like this in the BBS days. Hell, there might even be
        something from Compuserve that consistutes prior art. It's just not a particularly original
        idea.
  • In order to be awarded a patent, a company must demonstrate that they will actually USE the patent for something other than litigation. I looked around and I didn't see a damn thing that ZapMedia has EVER done with any such patent (which was filed in 2000?) for even such a common sense application of content distribution. Its like patenting how to use a blender! "If you press liquify and then chop, Blendable's Inc. will sue the pants off of you!"

    They don't even have a WEBSITE (besides this [zapmedia.com] lovely info-l
  • by CubeRootOf (849787) <michael_labrecque@student.uml.edu> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:27PM (#22740274)
    "ZapMedia applied for the patents in 1999. One was granted in March 2006, the other on Tuesday."

    They filed for these patents 9 years ago, and one of them was just granted ... Tuesday?!!

    I know we are all against software patents... but these guys have been waiting for 9 years to be able to use this patent by the rules that everyone is supposed to play by. calling them Patent Trolls for standing by and watching while Apple used thier technology to make billions, is not quite accurate.

    What would have happened if this patent was issued 9 years ago? or even just the year before the iPod came out? Would it be the ZapMediaPod that everyone was playing thier music on?

    Patent laws were originally designed so that the little guys can get thier inventions out without being clobbered by the big guys. Granted they don't work that way in practice.

    However - if you read the article's related to this issue, (and I don't mean the trashy yahoo article) try this one:

    http://money.excite.com/jsp/nw/nwdt_ge.jsp?cat=PRRELEASE&src=102&feed=cmt&section=news&news_id=cmt-072b4826&date=20080312&alias=/alias/money/cm/nw [excite.com]

    You will see that these guys worked closely with Apple, and then Apple cut them out of the loop, EXACTLY what patent law was originally designed to prevent.

    Patents shouldn't apply to software... maybe. How do you protect the small time coder from the big business that takes thier ideas, makes billions, and then doesn't return a dime, without patents?

    I'll accept any answer that doesn't end with
    3: ????
    4: PROFIT!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by vally_manea (911530)
      Ok, I'll bite... these guys worked closely with Apple, and then Apple cut them out of the loop what does this mean? Did they have a contract? If so I guess there's no problem otherwise I won't really take their word for it because as I understand http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes#History [wikipedia.org] Apple bought Itunes predecessor from some guys back 2000
    • by Serious Callers Only (1022605) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:50PM (#22740552)

      What would have happened if this patent was issued 9 years ago? or even just the year before the iPod came out? Would it be the ZapMediaPod that everyone was playing thier music on?

      I think what you meant to ask was - what would have happened if these guys had actually made a store and tried to make deals with media companies for distribution? I might have a bit more sympathy for them if they'd actually done something with the idea, they might have made it big, been chosen by media companies who are desperate for an Apple alternative, or been bought out.

      You will see that these guys worked closely with Apple, and then Apple cut them out of the loop, EXACTLY what patent law was originally designed to prevent.

      Doesn't say that anywhere in the press release you link to, which is in fact direct from the company suing in any case, so I'd take it with a pinch of salt. If they could claim they were in negotiations or actually working with Apple, they would have. Probably they just pitched to lots of companies in the hope of taking them to court later.

      Patents shouldn't apply to software... maybe. How do you protect the small time coder from the big business that takes thier ideas, makes billions, and then doesn't return a dime, without patents?

      You don't. Small time coders don't need protection in a world without patents (so long as you also prevent cartels and monopolies), because it's very easy to break into a market - all you need is one computer, one programmer and the right idea to make it big, or nowadays perhaps a server if you want to do web apps. A big company is not agile enough to react to rapid changes in features etc - you could run rings round them as a small company if you have good ideas and talent because with software you don't have to manufacture, pay up front for materials etc etc. In a world with software patents this is virtually impossible as a larger competitor can crush you like a bug with some ridiculous 'One Click' patent or a patent on tabs in a user interface as soon as you begin to threaten them. Software patents work exclusively in favour of the big guys, and offer no protection to smaller companies. They were intended for physical inventions, and that's where they should have stayed - even there they're open to abuse and should require a physical prototype.

      Quite apart from anything else the US Patent Office obviously can't handle the workload, so they need to restrict the number applications as a matter of practicality - that should have been done years ago because as it is they're becoming the laughing stock of the world.
    • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:51PM (#22740570) Journal
      With a license from Douglas Adams,
      the ZapPod BeebleBox?

    • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:08PM (#22740788) Homepage Journal

      How do you protect the small time coder from the big business that takes thier ideas, makes billions, and then doesn't return a dime, without patents?

      Protect someone whose obvious idea (send a file over the internet! ooh! aah!) is taken? You don't (why would you?). Protect someone whose product is ripped off? Copyright. Protect someone who did some consulting for Apple and spent time explaining that it might be profitable to build a vertical market of selling a player and selling music that can only be played on that player? Small claims court for the unpaid consulting bill.

      There is nothing about iTunes or the music store that should be patentable. Neither one contains any technical innovation that patent law was ever intended to protect. Neither one has anything that makes any engineer exclaim, "Damn! How did they do that?"

      The only "innovation" (and I use that loosely) is the product tying itself, but building vertical markets is an old idea anyway. Apple just happened to get there first with the music and only-player-that-can-play-it combo (and even that shouldn't be patentable).

      but these guys have been waiting for 9 years to be able to use this patent by the rules that everyone is supposed to play by.

      They waited 9 years for what? They didn't need a patent in order to sell players and music. They didn't need a patent to write an http server.

      If these guys got the idea before Apple but didn't get around to implementing it, it's no loss. There has been no ill effect on the progress of the useful sciences and arts.

      And on top of all that, what Apple is doing happens to be a bad (i.e. not useful) idea (from society's point of view, not Apple's). Having music that isn't interoperable with other players, is a regression in useful sciences and arts. Everybody who buys music from iTMS is worse off than they would be if the store didn't exist. Why should society grant a monopoly to incentivize the development of business models that have a negative value? (Well, ok, I can think of a reason: to limit its deployment. ;-)

      • by podperson (592944)
        Everybody who buys music from iTMS is worse off than they would be if the store didn't exist.

        A bizarre claim. People are paying to be made worse off. Wow, we must be idiots.

        I buy stuff from iTMS because it saves me waiting for a CD via mail, then ripping it. And if I need a CD I can burn one myself (legally). How am I worse off in any way? Arguably by the difference in price (if any), audio quality (if perceptible). Meanwhile, we just saved the world a bunch of packaging and plastic.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sloppy (14984)

          I was talking about Apple's one "innovation" -- the one new thing that set Apple apart from all the others who came before them. And that "innovation" was the product tying. You're worse off that the files you bought are only playable on one manufacturer's players.

          I buy stuff from iTMS because it saves me waiting for a CD via mail, then ripping it. And if I need a CD I can burn one myself (legally). How am I worse off in any way?

          Because 9 or 10 years ago, before there was an iPod or iTunes, you could a

    • They filed for these patents 9 years ago, and one of them was just granted ... Tuesday?!!

      Patent trivia: patents in the US are always granted on Tuesday

      No, I have no idea why that is, but check the dates. They are always Tuesday.

    • by Col. Klink (retired) (11632) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:21PM (#22740972)

      I know we are all against software patents... but these guys have been waiting for 9 years to be able to use this patent by the rules that everyone is supposed to play by. calling them Patent Trolls for standing by and watching while Apple used thier technology to make billions, is not quite accurate.
      The thing is, in most cases like these, the patent owner was primarily responsible for the delay as it is generally part of their strategy. They do this by continually amending the patent application, effectively delaying the date the patent is issued (and consequentially expires). This is such a common strategy that it even has a name: submarine patent [wikipedia.org].
    • However - if you read the article's related to this issue, (and I don't mean the trashy yahoo article) try this one [excite.com]

      To quote from that article: "Beginning in the late 1990s, ZapMedia, Inc., the predecessor of ZapMedia Services, created a unique platform and vision for the enjoyment of digital media assets. In connection with this vision, ZapMedia developed a system by which it could provide hardware, software and content to consumers to allow them to gain control over their digital media assets."

      Now, I don't want to sound cynical, but that seems less an 'article', more a 'press release reprinted verbatim'...

      / (Wow

    • by CarlDenny (415322) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:36PM (#22741182)
      That 9 year delay was probably intentional:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_patent [wikipedia.org]

      Basically, you can keep modifying claims, filing for extensions, etc for quite some time on a patent and only wrap up the process when:
      a) the technology is well entrenched in the market,
      b) you've tweaked the specific claims on your overly broad patent to match the market you're going after, and
      c) are ready to start suing.

      It's one of the most asinine parts of an already very asinine system.
    • by arminw (717974)
      ....Patents shouldn't apply to software....

      Indeed seems foolish. Software is nothing more than giving instructions to a machine. If instructions to machines can be patented, why not all instructions, such as those to people? Maybe you can patent a new method of programming children to decode alphanumeric symbols applied to paper.

      Maybe a chefs can get patents on a method for combining and heating various organic compounds for human consumption?

      The possibilities of patenting instructions of various types are
    • by giminy (94188)
      I agree that the timing of their patent is 'okay.' They did apply before the ipod was out, before there was an itunes service, etc.

      I disagree with their patent, still. It's too vague, and too obvious.

      The diagram from their patent is a picture of any internet service: Take data from multiple servers, make arrows that point from those servers to a cloud, and some computer devices that connect to the cloud and receive the data. I implemented prior art, as I used to have an account on a unix box with my ISP.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jrothwell97 (968062)

      The problem is that the idea is so feckin' obvious. It's a music shop, except the music is sent down a wire rather than etched into unreliable, breakable plastic. You might as well patent record shops as well. Oh, and music sent down a wire. Oh, and the wire at the same time.

      If I'm correct, Apple had their sights on turning the computer into a 'digital media hub' around the time they released the iMac (1998). Also, the idea that a 'centralized system for digital media distribution over the Internet'. Isn't

  • Zappa came up with the idea of centralized digital distribution of music back in 1983. He wins: http://blog.boondoggle.eu/2007/02/frank_zappa_pro.html [boondoggle.eu]
  • So... by setting up an online store, allowing users download songs for a nominal fee to multiple players is a patentable method?? Seriously the patent office here in the US is really messed up. In this case, Steve Jobs would be better off "buying them out" a la Bill Gates on The Simpsons than any sort of settlement. I can't stand Mr. Jobs & I'll take his side on this even.
    • you must understand that the patent office will also allow you to patent such "novel" ideas such as putting two specific drugs together in one pill. Also just increasing the amount in the pill can also be patented. one famous drug is available in a 20mg generic but the 40mg is still protected.
  • Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @12:33PM (#22740342) Homepage

    'The patents in question cover a way of sending music and other digital content from servers to multiple media players'

    Hmmm. Without reading the patent ... if I replace "digital content" with "JPEG Image" and "media players" with "web browsers" ... haven't they patented the entire concept of the Web? I mean, if they're talking about a pull-model whereby multiple clients grab content, then they're talking about HTTP, no?

    What about 'media players' and 'music' differentiates this from, oh, 'files' and 'NFS' for instance? "A method of allowing multiple clients to remotely access a networked resource".

    Man, patents can seem so stupid.

    Cheers
    • by stoney27 (36372) *
      You are correct as long as your device "laptop/handheld computer" syncs web pages for you to look at them later, off line. Since I don't think they are talking about live streaming. Of course I haven't looked too closely at the patent either. Maybe they cover that too.

      -S
  • Do They... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by His Shadow (689816)
    ...have any products? Do they compete in consumer space? Was there an existing product that Apple stole ideas from and subsequently rendered ZapMedia's product unsaleable? Maybe people need to watch "Connections" more often, but this idea that "ideas" are like rare diamonds and only one of a kind seems to permeate patent trollery. There are thousands if not millions of intelligent people forging ahead with technology and ideas and innovation. Apple's iTunes has many imitators and many predecessors, and none
  • by freerangegeek (451133) * on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:05PM (#22740754)
    When is some idiot going to realize that downloading anything as a "package" is the same action. A jpg, an mp3, or an html document, it's all JUST BITS encapsulated in a file. Streaming is downloading bits in real time without the package. Encoding is converting something into bits that can be downloaded. Can we get past the idiocy of granting a different patent for downloading a jpg than downloading an mp3? Really, networks have been doing this for nigh on 4 decades. Sure the encoding changes, the size of the object downloaded changes, and how much you can charge for said object does, but nothing "technological" has changed.

    Now, coming up with an insanely cool new encoding technology? Designing a new network transport system that passes information in a new and highly efficient way? Those should be patentable. But pushing a file in that encoding over the new network, please, somebody get a clue. If not, I'm planning on patenting a system to transport iPods across country using Hybrid vehicles....
  • Link to patent (Score:5, Informative)

    by Enrique1218 (603187) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:15PM (#22740858) Journal
    Here is the link [uspto.gov] to the actual patent. It seems to be filed in 2000. I don't have time to analyze it, but can someone analyze it and comment on its merits.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mckinnsb (984522)
      There are two places where they are going to try to nail Apple, reading the patent:

      The portal 300 may distribute digital media assets, that is download them in their entirety, to a client media player device for use on that device subject to the licensing rights associated therewith ... The portal applies a series of rights management rules associated with each user's tagged digital media assets to limit the user's access to and use to those periods to which the user's licensed rights of those assets applie

  • Steve Jobs sees this as a personal insult and decides to sue ZapMedia into oblivion rather than settle.
  • What kind of special way does ZapMedia have of sending music across the Internet... TCP?
  • since any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, it must be so, and magic is NOT patentable.
  • We can only hope. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Vexorian (959249) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:51PM (#22741412)
    With some luck, this will stop apple from using iTunes but not from selling the iPod.
  • by qazwart (261667) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:52PM (#22741422) Homepage
    The patent is not about the iPod or iTunes. It is about distributing "media" via a "network", tracking permissions who can or cannot use that "media", and being able to use the "media" on various players. The iPod came out in 2000, and the iTunes software came out in 1998, but this isn't talking about the integration between the iPod and iTunes because there is no centralized distribution database.

    In 2003, Apple came out with the iTunes store, and this is where the patent infringement is claimed. There's a centralized database of media (music files, video, etc.), and that is distributed to local media players. There is something that verifies that the player has permission to play that media.

    Notice there is nothing in the patent that says downloading! If I had a streaming service, and you connected to the streaming service via WiFi or some other mechanism, if you selected some media to play, and the server verifies you have permission to play that, and then it streams the media to your local player, that would be covered under the patent.

    To me, the patent is overly broad. There is no method specified, only the results (local player plays media from a central server it has permission to play). In fact, because it is so overly broad, it is easily possible to find local prior art. For example, cable TV might qualify (central database of TV shows, and these are played via a local player (called a TV set), but only by the people who have permission).
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @01:58PM (#22741494)
    Decendents of Uugg the caveman filed a lawsuit against anyone profiting from music. They say his patents on striking two rocks together and pounding on a hollow log form the basis of all music. Representatives for the music industry made an out of court offer of two goats and a stone ax to settle the matter but the offer was rejected.
  • Took them long enough to figure out Apple's business model. This is more like a submarine torpedo than an aboveboard action.
  • good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nguy (1207026) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @04:16PM (#22743186)
    That patent is no more ridiculous than some of Apple's own patents. Maybe if Apple gets sued like this, they will also work for patent reform.
  • Old Paradigm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Thursday March 13, 2008 @06:34PM (#22744922)
    Old paradigm: Microsoft waits for Apple to make a feature then copies it. New paradigm: Apple makes a new feature then waits for Company X to file a copyright claim.

Slowly and surely the unix crept up on the Nintendo user ...

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