Trade Commission to Investigate iPod

The U.S. International Trade Commission voted earlier this week to investigate Apple Computer and its iPod music player, affirming a complaint filed by Creative in May. While not a decision in the matter, it is the first step in deciding the merits of the case.

Creative alleges that Apple violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which forbids the importation into and sale of products in the United States that infringe on another's patents. The company has asked the ITC to bar Apple from importing its players into the country.

At issue is the so-called "Zen Patent," which Creative was awarded in August 2005. The company says it engineered and demonstrated the interface that Creative's players, as well as competing players, used well before the first iPods were shipped.

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The original complaint and accompanying lawsuit caused Apple to fire back, filing two separate patent infringement suits against the company. In total, Creative is accused of infringing on seven of Apple's patents.

A decision on the case is not expected for at least one year. Administrative law Judge Paul Luckern will call for an evidentiary hearing, which would occur in about five to eight months. This would be followed by an initial determination of any lawbreaking; the ruling would be subject to review by the commission.

A final ruling would then be handed down within 12 to 15 months.

Creative had no further comment other than a statement announcing the investigation Wednesday. Apple has not commented on any of Creative's legal efforts against the company.

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