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Apple fails to patent iPod interface

post #1 of 48
Thread Starter 
A near three-year-long attempt by Apple Computer to patent the menu-based software interface of its popular iPod digital music player has ultimately proved unsuccessful, AppleInsider has discovered.

The company's patent application, which lists Apple vice president Jeff Robbin and Apple chief executive Steve Jobs as two of its primary inventors, received a final rejection last month from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Standing in Apple's way appears to be a prior filing by inventor John Platt, who submitted a patent application for a similar software design for a portable device in May of 2002 -- just five months before Robbin submitted his claims on behalf of Apple.

Platt's application describes his invention as a system or method that "generates playlists for a library collection of media items via selecting a plurality of seed items, at least one which is an undesirable seed item." The process by which the iPod's software displays its own menu-based interface is very similar to the process Platt's filing goes on to describe.

In an attempt to trump Platt's application, Robbin through his patent lawyer petitioned the patent office to review an amended set of claims last November, shortly after his initial filing had been rejected in light of Platt's.

Upon review, the patent office in July issued a 6-page document pointing to prior claims made by Platt and offering its final rejection of Robbin's application. In forming a basis for the rejection, an examiner for the patent office began by citing Platt's preexisting claims:

"Platt discloses an apparatus and 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 having a second list of user selectable items based upon the user selection."

It's unclear how Robbin and Apple will proceed in their attempts to secure rights to the iPod's software design interface. The United States Patent and Trademark Office allows a three-month window period for reply to the final rejection, in which Robbin and Apple can appeal the decision, request reconsideration, or file a continuation of their original application.

With the fuses burning short on a number of patent filings from the early evolution of digital music players, it has yet to be determined who will ultimately score ownership in the industry. As it stands right now, Robbin's iPod software design is open territory that Apple cannot necessarily protect others from duplicating.

Prior to working alongside Jobs on Apple's iPod team, Robbin was employed by Casady & Greene, a small software company which developed applications for the Mac OS platform.

Casady & Greene was widely known among Mac users for its SoundJam MP3 player software, which Apple eventually took control of and re-branded as iTunes after hiring Robbin. In his first role as an engineering manager at Apple, Robbin was credited with leading the iPod's software development in the early days of the project.
post #2 of 48
Look for a LOT of MP3 players looking and acting just like the iPod in the near future. The best protection Apple has right now is the half a billion dollars that consumers have invested in the iTunes Music Store.

This is also a lesson for Apple to submit their patent application the day before a product is released.
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post #3 of 48
Good.

Software patents are stupid.
post #4 of 48
A lot of systems already look like Apples. For example, dell & creative. On another note, Apple could run into problems if the other guy gets the pattent and dosnt let Apple use it...
post #5 of 48
I echo Danosaur's statement. Software patents are stupid. Period. They stifle innovation.
post #6 of 48
not that anyone would listen to me ....

a final rejection, in the process of applying for a patent, means actually very little.

they may appeal, they may request reconsideration, they may file continuations of a few varieties.

if apple wants this patent, they're not done yet.

oh, i'm a patent examiner.
post #7 of 48
It's not surprising to me that more than party could come up with this basic method--it's not anything complex.

Maybe Apple can protect some SPECIFICS, but not the overall concept, and that seems fair to me.

The clickwheel as the device to access such a system can't be beat, of course.
post #8 of 48
Oh well, nevermind.
post #9 of 48
Apple should probably take the hit and buy him out. If this patent is that important, Apple shouldn't worry about the cost. Make him a very rich man.
post #10 of 48
as nagromme points out (knowingly or not) the name of the game here is 'make your claims broad enough so as to give as much protection as possible' i haven't looked at the claims, but it's possible apple just went for too much. or the examiner is wrong. it happens, just not with me
post #11 of 48
Yeah, but isn't this just software design? I mean it doesn't change Apple's use of clickwheels and iTunes, etc.. it is just a menu hierarchy, right?
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post #12 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by zoboomafoo
as nagromme points out (knowingly or not) the name of the game here is 'make your claims broad enough so as to give as much protection as possible' i haven't looked at the claims, but it's possible apple just went for too much. or the examiner is wrong. it happens, just not with me

That's true. But as someone who has had patents with my own firm, I can also say that attempting to broaden your patent application too much can most easily result in overlapping others.
post #13 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by MacGregor
Yeah, but isn't this just software design? I mean it doesn't change Apple's use of clickwheels and iTunes, etc.. it is just a menu hierarchy, right?

Without reading the patent, I can't say, but it might have to do with HOW it's done as well as the fact that it IS done.
post #14 of 48
Maybe it is time to use some of the cash on hand. Platt becomes rich and Apple has the patent. Done.
post #15 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by Carson O'Genic
Maybe it is time to use some of the cash on hand. Platt becomes rich and Apple has the patent. Done.

Glad someone agrees.
post #16 of 48
Here is John Platt's Home Page. . . at Microsoft.com!

Edit:
He originally worked at Synaptics, the manufacturer of Apple's Click Wheel. You have to wonder if he patented the idea from knowledge he gained while at Synaptics, or from a previous co-worker depending when he left Synaptics. Something don't smell right!
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post #17 of 48
Except for the music aspect of it, it sounds like the patent description is of the basic menu structure used in most OSes... Menu -> Submenu level 1 -> Submenu level 2 -> Desired Menu Item.

When I heard about this patent in the past, I thought it was much more specific to how the iPod interface looked and behaved, not the basic structure.

I've never really used any other mp3 player besides the iPod... now I'm wondering how they work...
post #18 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by TheTSart
Except for the music aspect of it, it sounds like the patent description is of the basic menu structure used in most OSes... Menu -> Submenu level 1 -> Submenu level 2 -> Desired Menu Item.

When I heard about this patent in the past, I thought it was much more specific to how the iPod interface looked and behaved, not the basic structure.

I've never really used any other mp3 player besides the iPod... now I'm wondering how they work...

Lets all say this together: sofware patents are stupid....

Isn't the OS X column view just like what iPod interface does????
post #19 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by salmonstk
Lets all say this together: sofware patents are stupid....

Isn't the OS X column view just like what iPod interface does????

First, it doesn't matter if they're stupid or not, they're here.

Second. No.
post #20 of 48
OS X Column view is VERY much like the iPod, and is clearly the inspiration for the iPod UI. OS X even progresses from pane to pane one at a time, if you simply reduce the window to only fit one.

That in turn was of course based on NeXT.

And NeXT wasn't first to have a file viewer in the form either:

Smalltalk - the birthplace of several modern GUI concepts in the mid to late 70s, but only brought to market in a stripped-down form:


See anything iPod-like about that file browser window?

From:
http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/gui.ars/
post #21 of 48
can anyone say what the serial number of apple's application is?

you know, i'm not entirely sure that it should be public knowledge that this case received a final rejection.
post #22 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by nagromme
OS X Column view is VERY much like the iPod, and is clearly the inspiration for the iPod UI. OS X even progresses from pane to pane one at a time, if you simply reduce the window to only fit one.

That in turn was of course based on NeXT.

And NeXT wasn't first to have a file viewer in the form either:

Smalltalk - the birthplace of several modern GUI concepts in the mid to late 70s, but only brought to market in a stripped-down form:


See anything iPod-like about that file browser window?

From:
http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/gui.ars/

That's all very true when comparing looks, to a certain extent. But its function is very different. a list view is common and is a simple menu. That's not the point. It's the way it's coded, the way the intelligence behind it works.

If this was as similar as some seem to think, then both Platt and Apple wouldn't have been trying to patent it. They both knew about all of these earlier works. Especially Jobs.

Remember that beauty is skin deep. It's whats underneath that counts. The look they could copyright, if it were possible.
post #23 of 48
All Apple has to do is make minor variations to their application and resubmit. They can also cite prior art.

On top of this, they can easily license existing patents that may overlap.

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post #24 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by SpamSandwich
All Apple has to do is make minor variations to their application and resubmit. They can also cite prior art.

On top of this, they can easily license existing patents that may overlap.

The Patent Office doesn't allow continual re-applications. The variations must be meaningful - by their definition.

Citing prior art will disallow a patent issuance. Why to you suggest that? Are you trying to negate BOTH patent claims?

You can't recieve a patent that overlaps anothers' unless the patents are in different areas, or the invention is an advance over the one it overlaps, and the overlapping parts are not considered essential to the process. So licensing the other patent might be a good idea, but you still won't get yours.
post #25 of 48
Thanks, Zoboo!

(Sorry, I just had to.)
post #26 of 48
I can't believe that an engineer working at or for a company was allowed (by that company) to patent technology he apparently helped develop whilst employed there. If that's the case, I've got a ton of things I"m going to patent !
post #27 of 48
Wait - the iPod was released October 23, 2001. The 3rd party patent in question was applied for May 2002.

How is the iPod not prior art?
post #28 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by Gee4orce
I can't believe that an engineer working at or for a company was allowed (by that company) to patent technology he apparently helped develop whilst employed there. If that's the case, I've got a ton of things I"m going to patent !

By law, the inventor of the patent is the individual(s) who developed the patent. That is the name on the patent. That is who owns the patent. By custom, here in the USA the inventor assigns the patent over to the company, and in return receives royalties, or license fees from it.

You joke about your prowess, but if you really do have inventions, by all means, go and patent them.
post #29 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by Carson O'Genic
Maybe it is time to use some of the cash on hand. Platt becomes rich and Apple has the patent. Done.

Or hire him to work on the iPod project.
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post #30 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by kenaustus
Look for a LOT of MP3 players looking and acting just like the iPod in the near future. The best protection Apple has right now is the half a billion dollars that consumers have invested in the iTunes Music Store.

This is also a lesson for Apple to submit their patent application the day before a product is released.


Awesome! Will adding this new GUI also stop my dell jukebox from crashing -- its really getting quite annoying.
post #31 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by mike518
Awesome! Will adding this new GUI also stop my dell jukebox from crashing -- its really getting quite annoying.

Is this a real question, or is it satirical?
post #32 of 48
The thing is, Apple didn't even make the iPod UI. They bought the technology from a different company (whose name escapes me) and they customized it for the iPod.
post #33 of 48
Apple STILL uses and has used for a long time that UI in its OS. In the finder of OS 9 - X (at least) for organizing files from folders to subfolders, etc.
post #34 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by melgross
You joke about your prowess, but if you really do have inventions, by all means, go and patent them.

The problem is I can't figure out to what level of the stupidly obvious I should stoop.
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post #35 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by shetline
The problem is I can't figure out to what level of the stupidly obvious I should stoop.

If it's stupidly obvious, then you won't get a patent.
post #36 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by melgross
If it's stupidly obvious, then you won't get a patent.

I've seen plenty of stupid and worthless patents. It's not the problem of getting patents so much as it is the problem of applying the patents and getting money for them.
post #37 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by melgross
If it's stupidly obvious, then you won't get a patent.

Amazon's one-click shopping patent?
Microsoft's patent on double-clicking (on a PDA, as if somehow that restriction makes it original)?
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post #38 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by icfireball
I've seen plenty of stupid and worthless patents. It's not the problem of getting patents so much as it is the problem of applying the patents and getting money for them.

Have you gone through the process, because I have. It's not that simple.

Getting money from patents can be difficult if you are an independent inventor. Industry feels uncomfortable dealing with outsiders. You often have to start up your own company.
post #39 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by shetline
Amazon's one-click shopping patent?
Microsoft's patent on double-clicking (on a PDA, as if somehow that restriction makes it original)?

I don't agree that all patents should be issued. But if no one else has thought of it before, and therefore it can be considered as being "non obvious to the average practicioner in the field", then often it will be granted.

E=MC^ is pretty obvious now, but it wasn't to Einstein when he came up with it.
post #40 of 48
Quote:
Originally posted by melgross
E=MC^ is pretty obvious now, but it wasn't to Einstein when he came up with it.

Even now, it's a whole lot less obvious than one-click shopping. While most people still don't really grasp the full meaning of that equation, even if they can quote it, you can bet that plenty of utterly clueless computer newbies imagine one-click shopping before it was even available, simply being afraid that one wrong click would take their money.

Push a button and you've bought something. Yeah, whoduh ever thunk it!

Besises, Einstein didn't try to file a patent on e = mc^2 either.
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