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Apple Tries to Patent iPod User Interface 426

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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  • buh..? (Score:0, Interesting)

    by crazyfreakid ( 725264 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:04AM (#8694152)
    So Apple is trying to patent some stuff they didn't invent?
  • Yeah, thats right (Score:1, Interesting)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:09AM (#8694185) Homepage Journal
    My Sony tuner from 1998 or so uses a wheel based interface for controling most of its digital features (everything that dosn't have a dedicated button). And that's a "music player".

    Seriously lame.
  • Re:Good for them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by agent dero ( 680753 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:13AM (#8694200) Homepage
    It doesn't mean that they're _eliminating_ the competition; they're just FORCING the competition to make something _better_ instead of copying what Apple already has.

    I see it as a somewhat good thing, I mean, they're not trying to patent the idea of "e$NOUN"

    They're trying to patent something that they have created, a design, which is something vital to their business, why not?
  • Re:Too far? (Score:5, Interesting)

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

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

  • Re:Question (Score:5, Interesting)

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

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

    Apple had already threatened to sue iRiver for attempting to use the scroll-wheel and a similar user interface in the iHP-120. iRiver went with the 'clit' manuevering device instead. If the iRiver iHP-120 had the same easy to use iPod interface while retaining all those features it could've been an iPod killer.
  • How's this bad? (Score:3, Interesting)

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

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

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

    As we were told where I work: If you come up with a new way to package / use existing technologies, you CAN patent that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:34AM (#8694298)
    Not so much for Apple, but much more for the slashdot crowd. Two common themes are present from the slashdot crowd that I've met,

    1. Apple is uber-cool. Steve Jobs can do no wrong, He is our master and overlord. I'd gladly give Mr. Jobs a hummer if I ever was lucky enough to meet him person. If Mr. Jobs thinks patents and copyrights are OKAY, then I think they're okay too ! OH ohh, the new iPod is cool cool, TAHNK OYU STEVE JOBS, I LOVE YOU.

    2. Patents are bollocks, top to bottom, side to side, it doesn't matter, they're all evil.

    So, whats the slashdot crowd to do ? Implode I hope, especially the iPod crowd.
  • by zalm ( 672014 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:38AM (#8694316)
    When you first read the patent application it states 'multimedia asset player. It isn't until you get to paragraph the it expands the description with 'portable, pocket-sized' descriptor. Paragraph also includeds 'home interface' in the working description below.

    13. In a portable, pocket-sized multimedia asset player, a method of selecting and playing an multi media asset from a group of multimedia assets stored therein, comprising: displaying at a home interface, a playlist list item corresponding to a number of playlists stored in the multimedia asset player, wherein each playlist is a user customizable group of multimedia assets, an artists item corresponding to all of a number of artists each of which is associated with at least one of the stored multimedia assets, and a songs list item associated with each of the stored multimedia assets; highlighting a desired one of the playlist list item, the artists item, or the songs list item; receiving a selection of the highlighted item; and automatically transitioning to a second interface based upon the selected item.

    Apple blew it when they added 'pocket-sized' to the description, it the patent had been granted as just a 'multimedia asset player' it could possibly be applied to notebooks. As it is could this be applied to PDAs? and does the patent also apply to the "home interface'?
  • by JohnsonWax ( 195390 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:42AM (#8694332)
    I think any Apple engineer will tell you that Steve plays a direct role in many of Apple's high-profile products. There's no doubt that some sort of element like the scroll wheel came out of his head, even if he had no direct role in it's implementaiton.

    Now, whether he plays a positive or negative role is another matter. It's my understanding that much of the ever-changing UI in OS X+iApps is due to his input.
  • Re:How's this bad? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bull999999 ( 652264 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:04AM (#8694403) Journal
    In previous articles dealing with IP and patents, slashdotters often flame drug companies for patenting their drugs to prevent others from copying it. I believe this shows the inconsistancy in beliefs among slashdotters.

    I personally believe that patents are just a tool. You can use it to protect or destroy.
  • Re:So? It's their's. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:09AM (#8694423)
    I'm going to cut and paste your comment into the next MS patent article.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:21AM (#8694451)
    > ms doesn't call Apple their 'R&D south division' for nothing.

    That was 10 years ago, when Apple blew 30% of their revenues working on crazy futuristic technology. Things like the Newton, or 802.11.

    The Apple of today doesn't really invent anything except marketing imagery. They use their muscle to get exclusive deals on things like the iPod's hard drive, add a bit of trivial firmware, and patent the whole thing.

    Microsoft is a technological leech, but the modern Apple ain't much better.
  • by bagel2ooo ( 106312 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:25AM (#8694465)
    I've often been curious about this. While I respect and understand the rights to a company patenting it's user interface be it tangible or software, I ponder how much this effects inconsistency among interfaces. I'm sure many of you have been in a rental car and gone to set a preset or change the radio station and have given up in frustration as not to hit another car trying to figure out the new interface. Certainly this was true for a while in the early 90s among games when they had to use different key combinations for different actions and such. Just how much does patenting of interfaces effect inconsistency among interfaces.
  • Re:Too far? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Magnus Reftel ( 143 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:38AM (#8694502)
    It probably won't help them at all. It's look and feel all over again.
    That was copyright. This is a patent. As your link points out:
    It remains unclear what would have happened if Apple had acquired a software patent ...
    This patent is not even really a software patent - it's about how a physical device is used. The fact that the only feasible way to implement it is to use software isn't really all that significant (imho, at least). So: the look and feel case isn't likely to be relevant at all here.
  • The Martyr Brigade (Score:3, Interesting)

    by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:59AM (#8694553)

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

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

    As it is... this is a story that has nothing to do with Microsoft... but the Microsoft Martyrs still get a chance to cry about the injustices layed at the feet of their corporate hero.
  • Re:How's this bad? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:07AM (#8694568)
    In previous articles dealing with IP and patents, slashdotters often flame drug companies for patenting their drugs to prevent others from copying it. I believe this shows the inconsistancy in beliefs among slashdotters.

    Well, you'd be wrong. You're equating patents for one class of idea with patents for an entirely different class. The reason why people object to patents on drugs is because it seen as morally wrong to profiteer from the sick. Another objection involves the fact that a lot of drug patents have prior art in nature and therefore the drug companies haven't invented anything but just discovered it. The patent being discussed in this article is a design patent and as far as I know doesn't condemn people to premature death for no other reason than that they can't afford an iPod.
  • by 0x0d0a ( 568518 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:12AM (#8694585) Journal
    If we admit that Apple's patent is reasonable, we should also admit that OneClick is reasonable.

    Frankly, I don't think that UI elements should be patentable. It's already extremely difficult to write software without infringing on a patent. I can't even imagine how hard it would be to design user interfaces without infringing on any mechanisms.
  • by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:17AM (#8694601) Homepage
    There's no doubt that some sort of element like the scroll wheel came out of his head, even if he had no direct role in it's implementaiton

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

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

  • by dfghjk ( 711126 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:17AM (#8694604)
    In my brief read of the application, Apple's not trying to patent its innovations, but rather it's trying to patent heirarchical menus on a portable multimedia player. Creative did that before Apple did. It's not as though Apple was first, or even early, to market with the iPod and its primary innovation in its UI was the scroll wheel (if you can call it an innovation at all).

    So, to address you comments, Apple is not "inventing these great things" but rather is simply making a grab for IP rights on core technologies that its iPod competitors would always use. Despicable but how the patent game is played. Frankly, there's way to much prior art for this patent to ever be valid.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:18AM (#8694605)
    Is it just me? Or do the first couple of points on the article seem to be referring to any hierarchical menu?

    Surely they can't patent the idea of a hierarchical menu system???
  • Re:Good for them (Score:5, Interesting)

    by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:25AM (#8694623) Homepage
    Please don't read the summary. The summary doesn't get any legal protection and is just there to give a general idea what the patent is about. If you want to know what they are trying to patent READ THE CLAIMS!!

    Although he read the summary rather than the claims, he did get the right idea as to what they are trying to claim. Here's the first claim:

    1. A method of assisting user interaction with a multimedia asset player by way of a hierarchically ordered user interface, comprising: displaying a first order user interface having a first list of user selectable items; receiving a user selection of one of the user selectable items; and automatically transitioning to and displaying a second order user interface based upon the user selection.
  • Re:Good for them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dfghjk ( 711126 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:29AM (#8694637)
    Because what they're trying to patent is a ripoff of existing designs at the time. Hierarchical menus were already used in players on the market.

    All Apple is trying to do is lay claim to core IP that is both obvious and non-innovative. Since such applications are not really scrutinized, the patent may issue but it could never be valid. Such a patent would be useful in a portfolio or against a weak opponent only.
  • by Reemi ( 142518 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:05AM (#8694970)
    Thanks for the clarification.

    According to Apple, the iPod was announced october 23, 2001 []:
    CUPERTINO, California--October 23, 2001--Apple(R) today introduced iPod(TM), a breakthrough MP3 music player that...

    Did they miss 5 days (it was not yet on the market, but info was general available it seems)?

  • by Chuck Messenger ( 320443 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:16AM (#8694993)
    I think the main problem with the patent system is that the "non-obvious" standard is mostly ignored by patent examiners. The standard for a novel idea is supposed to be something like "non-obvious to someone skilled in the field".

    I mean, PLEASE!!! Applying well-known user-interface techniques from other domains to a new domain (mp3 player)??? That isn't obvious to one skilled in the field?

    I hate the patent system. And yes, I have applied for/received a patent -- but it takes alot of time & money. I can't possibly afford to patent every stinking idea at the level of those being applied for by Apple. In effect, the patent system is being used as a mechanism for established companies (with cash flow) to lock out small players. A horribly anti-competitive system!
  • by udippel ( 562132 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @09:14AM (#8695109)
    They're patenting aspects of the iPod user interface.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • by clifyt ( 11768 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @10:36AM (#8695396)
    Quite a few times the inventors / designers at Apple will point at Jobs ideas as the one that got them to the current design.

    Case in point, the Lamp Style iMac came from him. Ives had come up with several LCD prototypes -- and they were probably all cool as hell in their own right -- but Jobs wasn't satisfied. While some upper management were touring his wine fields, he took the designers to a plantings of sunflowers and pointed out that the head of the plant was HUGE but didn't seem unwieldy and was natural. He asked the guys to think about that and how the flower's head was supported when redesigning the new iMac (for the 30th time).

    The new iMac is directly a result of this and Jobs' idea on how it should work. you can see it in the machine when you look at it and think about it.

    There are dozens of these stories out of the net from the designers of the hardware and the software where something that might have been a throw away comment from someone else became the core of what Jobs got out of his engineers (sometimes for good / sometimes for the bad).

    So, from past experience, it is only prudent to accept he might have had a good deal of input even if others with the practical experience are listed (that was for the grandparent post as I agree with the parents post :-).
  • Re:buh..? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 2nd Post! ( 213333 ) <.gundbear. .at.> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:01PM (#8696416) Homepage
    They invented it [] all right.

    Actually, technically, NeXT [] had it first, but since Apple bought NeXT, and then Apple designed/released the iPod [], it really still is an Apple invention.

    Throughout all three products, at least, Steve Jobs was at the helm.
  • by 33degrees ( 683256 ) <> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:55PM (#8697028)
    I'm not an Apple zealot, but I can definitely understand why other people are. The commodification of the pc market has driven profit margins down to the point where most companies are afraid to do anything too inovative, both technology wise and design wise. Apple stands out from the pack for their commitment to "thinking different" (sorry) and quality design, and their vision is the kind of thing that people get fanatical about, for better or for worse. Personally I don't agree with everything they do, and I don't currently own any of their products, but I am definitely glad they are around, because the computing world would be a much grayer place with them...
  • Re:Familiar names... (Score:5, Interesting)

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

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

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

    Incidentally, the library handling is much saner on OSX, where you can move files to your heart's content and not worry about the app not being able to find them.
  • by Entropy2016 ( 751922 ) <entropy2016@yahoo . c om> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:41PM (#8697308)
    Does Apple innovate?
    Cool UI, FireWire, SuperDrive, etc (long list).

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

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

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

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

    Conclusion: Patents on blurry issues like UI might not be cool, but getting your product ripped off by lazy designers isn't cool either.
  • Re:Familiar names... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lwdupont ( 153781 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:48PM (#8697796)
    Tim is a really great guy, who works really hard at Apple. It's nice to see him get a bit of recognition. :-) I'm sure if he reads this, he'll be really happy with the comparison to Keith..
  • by Tjp($)pjT ( 266360 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:25PM (#8698569)
    I had one of the original NEO-25 (3/4 the size of a brick) players and it meets most of the apple claimed functionality. And it was old enough they dropped new support for it before this Apple patent was filed. In this case it looks like Apple did not do their homework.

    The NEO-25 supported hierarchical lists (drill down throgh folders of songs, playlists, etc.) And while it did not simultaneoulsy let you drill down by artist, genre, etc. you could certainly arrange things in any of those orders (I had songs, playlists, "xfer" and "misc" as my top level folders). And if you were wearing cargo pants it was pocket-sized. And it fit in my jacket pockets in any case. SSI America was the US importer I bought mine through but there was at least one other branding for the same player. And since it used FAT-32 (or could use FAT-32) you could actually create alias directories and support multiple organization arrangements simultaneously. Which reminds me, I still have to see if the iPod supports aliases/shortcuts/soft links so I can cut down on the number of copies of some songs that appear on multiple albums (where it is the same track, not a remix,live,etc different version).

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake