Creative Threatens Apple with UI Patent

While it struggles to compete with Apple in the marketplace, Creative is exploring a new avenue for dethroning the digital music king: patent litigation. Creative announced Tuesday it had been granted a patent covering the user interface for portable media players, including the iPod.

Specifically, the patent involves the method for selecting at least one track on a portable player as a user sequentially browses through a hierarchy of three or more screens on the display. For example, the patent would cover a user navigating from an artist, to a list of albums, to a list of songs on an album.

"According to one aspect of the present invention, a technique is provided for organizing tracks on a portable music player by automatically filing tracks in a hierarchical order based on attributes of the tracks," patent application 6,928,433 reads.

"According to another aspect of the invention, the hierarchy is derived by using metadata associated with the audio content that was obtained through any source of metadata (e.g. CDDB metadata, id3v2 metadata, other obtainable metadata) and subsequently stored with or alongside the file that stores the track."

Apple's iPod and iPod mini employ a similar interface, Creative claims. The company says that interface was invented by "Creative research and development engineers in our Advanced Technology Center in Scotts Valley, California."

The so-called "Zen Patent" was filed on January 5, 2001 and awarded August 9, 2005. The interface referenced in the patent was used in Creative's NOMAD Jukebox, which debuted in September 2000. Creative points out that the iPod did not ship for another 13 months.

Although Creative did not say whether it planned to ask Apple to license the Zen Patent and pay a fee for each iPod sold, company CEO Sim Wong Hoo hinted that Creative would protect its work. "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," noted Hoo.

Hoo also took the time to point out that Apple's patent application for the iPod interface was not filed until October 28, 2002.

"A related provisional application was filed by Apple on July 30, 2002, eighteen months after our filing date for the Zen Patent and over twenty months after our NOMAD Jukebox based upon our user interface was on the market," he said.

Creative will soon launch its new Zen Vision player and the long-awaited Zen Micro Photo with OLED screen - both of which utilize the interface described in the Zen Patent, company officials say.

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