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Creative's 'Zen Patent' Heats Up the MP3 Player Patent Wars
Tuesday, August 30th, 2005 at 11:20 AM - by
Creative Technology Ltd. on Tuesday announced that on Aug. 9 it won what the company calls the "Zen Patent," which covers the user interface for its Zen and Nomad MP3 players. In a statement, Creative added that the patented interface is also "found in some competing players, such as the Apple iPod and iPod mini."
Creative CEO and chairman Sim Wong Hoo, who earlier this year declared "war" on Apple, said in the statement: "The first portable media player based upon the user interface covered in our Zen Patent was our NOMAD Jukebox MP3 player. We shipped the NOMAD Jukebox to U.S. retail customers in September of 2000. The Apple iPod was only announced in October 2001, 13 months after we had been shipping the NOMAD Jukebox based upon the user interface covered by our Zen Patent."
Mr. Sim went on to say: "Before this invention, there was no intuitive and efficient way to deal with the large number of tracks that could be stored on a high-capacity player."
The patent, which Creative applied for on Jan. 5, 2001, specifically covers "a method of selecting at least one track from a plurality of tracks stored in a computer-readable medium of a portable media player configured to present sequentially a first, second, and third display screen on the display of the media player, the plurality of tracks accessed according to a hierarchy, the hierarchy having a plurality of categories, subcategories, and items respectively in a first, second, and third level of the hierarchy."
On Aug. 9, AppleInsider broke the news that an inventor who now works at Microsoft filed a patent in May 2002 for "a hierarchically ordered user interface." That patent caused Apple's original and amended patents for the iPod user interface to be denied, leading to some speculative media reports claiming that Apple would have to pay royalties to Microsoft for each iPod it sold.
How today's events will affect Apple remains to be seen. Creative seems to be establishing prior art, which in patent law refers to the fact that an invention which is available for sale first wins out over an invention whose patent is filed first. Prior art led many who understand patent law to dismiss the Microsoft patent, but it's unknown if Creative could, for example, force Apple to pay royalties to them for each iPod and iPod mini sold.
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