Tuesday, August 30, 2005

iPOD PATENTS EVERYWHERE, AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK: Hot on the heels of Apple's run-in with the Microsoft's "musical interface" patent at the USPTO (and the ridiculous amount of press that ensued), Creative Technologies has decided to grab some of the spotlight and announce that they too are in the portable-music patenting business, and they have at least one patent that may be of interest to Apple.

Fresh after reporting their first quarterly loss in three years, Creative appears to be ready to raise awareness on their patent portfolio, and particularly the recently-issued US Patent 6,928,433, titled "Automatic hierarchical categorization of music by metadata."

Referred to as the "Zen Patent" (your guess is as good as mine), the disclosure covers the user interface that enables users of portable media players to navigate among and select tracks on the players. The user interface for portable media players enables selection of at least one track in a portable media player as a user sequentially navigates through a hierarchy using three or more successive screens on the display of the player. One example would be the sequence of screens that could display artists, then albums, and then tracks. When the user selects an artist, the player displays a list of albums for that artist. Selection of one of the listed albums then displays a list of tracks on the album.

What's interesting about Creative's announcement is that it almost has a belligerent tone towards the iPod product line (can you blame them?). If I didn't know better, it would appear that Creative is directing a veiled threat to Apple:

"The user interface covered by the Zen Patent was invented by Creative research and development engineers in our Advanced Technology Center in Scotts Valley, California," said Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of Creative. "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, and by November of 2000, it was already ranked as the top revenue-generating product in the U.S. in the digital audio player category, according to PC Data. By January of 2001, we announced that we had already sold 100,000 NOMAD Jukeboxes. 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."

Claim 1 of the patent reads as follows:

1. 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, the method comprising:

selecting a category in the first display screen of the portable media player;

displaying the subcategories belonging to the selected category in a listing presented in the second display screen;

selecting a subcategory in the second display screen;

displaying the items belonging to the selected subcategory in a listing presented in the third display screen; and

accessing at least one track based on a selection made in one of the display screens.

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