Wednesday, August 31, 2005


PATENTS + iPOD = LOTS OF PRESS: Well, after Creative Technology crowed about its musical interface patent, and the insinuation that the iPOD may be infringing, you might think that Creative engaged in a bit of gamesmanship to gain notoriety for its line of MP3 players. After all, there are legions of press releases where companies showcase a freshly-granted patent like a new baby to convince investors that they hold the key to the "next big thing" in their field of technology. Sometimes companies are right in their interpretation of their patent. However, it is often the case that the issued patent is not as earth-shattering as the press release suggests. In any case, the media typically ignores these announcements as a matter of course. That is, unless you have a patent that is remotely applicable to Apple's iPOD line.

Now, I haven't analyzed the strength of Creative's patent (nor have I been retained to determine an infringement position on the patent), but judging by the market's reaction, Creative Technology is getting the type of media attention every company dreams of when they announce an issued patent (BTW, Creative's stock shot up 7% on the news). And the threat to Apple was just icing on the cake.

But what's the big deal? In the case of Microsoft, the "controversy" was over two allegedly overlapping patent applications with Apple. Since neither of them has issued as a patent, there is nothing to sue over. Besides, the claims barely cover the same subject matter.

In Creative's case, they have a patent that is potentially enforceable against Apple (nobody knows for sure yet). Well, if THAT is news in and of itself, then you could easily create new headlines by spending a few minutes on the USPTO site to find other patents that at least superficially "threaten" the iPOD product line. After about 5 minutes, I discovered these 2 gems:

US Patent 5,670,73 - "Data protocol and method for segmenting memory for a music chip" - issued September 23, 1997 to Lucent Technologies, Inc.

Claim 18. A data protocol for use in storing pre-recorded audio in memory of an integrated circuit chip, said integrated circuit chip being adapted for use with an audio player, said data protocol comprising:

global header having parameters stored therein corresponding to an encoding technique used for storing said pre-recorded audio in memory and used by said audio player in decoding said audio; and

at least one individual header having multiple data fields, said data fields including general description information about individual tracks of said pre-recorded audio.

US Patent 5,918,303 - "Performance setting data selecting apparatus" - issued June 29, 1999 to Yamaha Corporation.

Claim 15. A performance setting data selecting method comprising the steps of:

(a) preparing means for storing a correspondence between each of a plurality of tune names and performance setting data suitable for playing each tune;

(b) designating the tune name of each tune; and

(c) setting the performance setting data corresponding to the tune name of each designated tune by reading the performance setting data from said storing means.

I'm serious - 5 minutes. In fact, it took me longer to type this out than it did for me to find these references. The point is that most companies go through this kind of stuff all the time when they map out patents for product releases. No matter what product you are dealing with, there will invariably be a cluster of patents that touch upon the subject matter one way or another. But you won't know where you fall in the patent landscape until you actually analyze specific patents against the actual product. And without doing the analysis, I don't see what the point is (other than selling newspapers) to fly off the handle each time someone announces a patent "threat" towards a particular product.

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