Apple fails to patent iPod interface

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 47
    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.
  • Reply 2 of 47
    danosaurdanosaur Posts: 258member
    Good.



    Software patents are stupid.
  • Reply 3 of 47
    icfireballicfireball Posts: 2,594member
    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...
  • Reply 4 of 47
    I echo Danosaur's statement. Software patents are stupid. Period. They stifle innovation.
  • Reply 5 of 47
    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.
  • Reply 6 of 47
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    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.
  • Reply 7 of 47
    Oh well, nevermind.
  • Reply 8 of 47
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,960member
    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.
  • Reply 9 of 47
    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
  • Reply 10 of 47
    macgregormacgregor Posts: 1,434member
    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?
  • Reply 11 of 47
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,960member
    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.
  • Reply 12 of 47
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,960member
    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.
  • Reply 13 of 47
    Maybe it is time to use some of the cash on hand. Platt becomes rich and Apple has the patent. Done.
  • Reply 14 of 47
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,960member
    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.
  • Reply 15 of 47
    fahlmanfahlman Posts: 723member
    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!
  • Reply 16 of 47
    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...
  • Reply 17 of 47
    salmonstksalmonstk Posts: 568member
    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????
  • Reply 18 of 47
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,960member
    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.
  • Reply 19 of 47
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    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/
  • Reply 20 of 47
    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.
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