Apple’s patent application for Pod’s menu-based software interface rejected

“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,” Kasper Jade and Katie Marsal report for AppleInsider.

“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,” Jade and Marsal report. “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.”

Full article here.
In related news, Sim Wong Hoo was seen doing cartwheels across Creative’s parking lot and several Chinese knock-off electronic makers declared today a national holiday. But, seriously, it’ll all work out.


  1. The bad news:

    Other MP3 players will look like an iPod

    The good news:

    They won’t work like it!

    This reminds me of Apples lawsuit with Microsoft where MS got away with murder, they simply had to make the trash can into a recycle bin in order to be legal. But like Windows compared to Mac OS, they can not copy the experiance. The iPod is a hit in large part due to iTunes. The iPod sales soared when iTunes for windows was released because the windows users could get the whole experiance.

    The also rans will just look a little closer, but they will still be also rans. A few people will be fooled, but not enough to matter. Microsoft will declare victory tomorrow pronouncing a new era of “freedom” for users and the minor players will offer a “heil Bill!”, but like Hitler’s 3rd Reich it will be dead in a few years (or months).

  2. Sim Wong Hoo…LOL…cartwheels…ROTFLMAO!

    Nobody’s dressing their babies like Creative Zens, dudes. And nobody ever will. So much for the “war.”

    Make peace, not war. And now, back to my bong.

  3. I’ve always thought that a lot of the computer interface and internet patents (like Amazon’s on click web purchase patent) were bulls**t.

    In any case, Apple still has a lot of legal ammunition to fight copycats over trade-dress complaints under trademark law.

  4. I dont believe Mediocresoft will be able to patent friggin smilies either, cause it has to be a tecnical solution to a “problem” of some sort. This is why its hard for Apple to patent a menu based software interface, as such is hardly unique. Authorities will argue that menus occur on existing products of all kinds, and has no “news” value.

    However, they will probably be able to protect the design to some extent.

  5. The article mentions that another person submitted a patent. If he got a patent, then Apple may have to either license the interface now, or change the interface if they cannot reason with this guy. There is no mention who “Platt” with the patent works for or who he sold the right to.

    I have been using similar menu based themes(ie, move up/down, pick something and another menu comes on the screen) since my days of DOS programming.

  6. If I read this right, this is about the software which is a relatively simple menu based system. This doesn’t include the scroll wheel, which is, in my mind, the separating factor that makes the iPod much easier than the other ones. And the fact that it syncs so well with iTunes.

    A guy in my lab just bought some random 1 gig cube for the same price as an iPod Shuffle. He said he liked it better cause it had an FM tuner and a screen that was seriously 1 cm by 1 cm. The whole thing was a cube about 1.5 cm on each side. I then asked him how he put songs on it and he said that he had to drag them all onto it. He couldn’t have folders and couldn’t figure out how to have playlists on it. Granted, you can’t do playlists on the Shuffle either, but if you can’t, what is the point of the screen. Anyway, I don’t think this failed patent is much of an issue…Apple has many others that are protecting other aspects of the iPod and I’m sure some of them will come through.

  7. RevNeal writes:

    “Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but doesn’t copyright law protect some aspects of the software? I mean, MS can’t just copy the software, slap on a new name, and use it. Right?”

    You are EXACTLY right. The US patent office has been too liberal with the issuing of PATENTS for things that are protected by COPYRIGHT.

    A menu based interface is NOT a patentable invention – menu based interfaces have in existance for quite some time (eg Nokia’s menu navigation system, and Motorola’s etc etc).

    However Apple’s iPod menu based interface IS Copyright protected. It is a UNIQUE method, applied to a specific task (i.e. navigating files in a media based device) etc etc.

    It is protected by copyright.

    This is a real problem with tech companies at the moment, they are seeking patents for copyright protected work.

    Like Microsoft wanting patents for smileys and “clicking” and other such rubbish.

    Microsoft can certainly enforce copyright for a particular style/method of implementation of these things, but they SHOULD not be given patent protection for these ideas so that no one else can do a similar thing without paying them.

    Patents are meant to PROTECT innovation and incourgae it. If you Patent protect things like mouse clicks, then innovation is stunted, as no-one else can come up with a BETTER mouse click.

    If other industries applied the tech industry view to patents, then we’d all be in a lot of trouble.

    For eg I work in the Pharmaceutical industry. If we did it the tech industry way our patents would be for “blood pressure lowering” OR “cholesterol lowering” in general, instead of for a SPECIFIC type of agent.

    For eg if my company creates blood pressure lowering drug that is in the class of what are termed ACE inhibitors, no other company can COPY that EXACT drug for the patent duration, however other companies can (and do) make other ACE inhibitors (currently there are over 20!), each with various benefits etc.

    If we applied the tech industry’s thinking to patent protection, the company that invents the FIRST ACE inhibitor would be able to prevent ALL other companies from developing a BETTER ACE inhibitor (unless they paid the orignial company licensing fees!) – that is stiffling for innovation, and EXTREMELY protectionist for the original research company.

    Patenst should protect SPECIFIC ideas and SPECIFIC technologies/things (eg the click-wheel etc). Patents should NOT be applied to GENERAL concepts (i.e. menu based interfaces)

    Apple probably just needs to be a bit less VAGUE in the terms of the patent, and make it more specific to the iPod, then the Patent office will grant it.

    my 2 cents


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