Creative wins patent for portable media player interface | iLounge News


Creative wins patent for portable media player interface

In what can only be seen as a potential problem for Apple, Creative Technology said today that it has been awarded U.S. Patent 6,928,433 — which it is referring to as the “Zen Patent” — for portable media player navigation. “The Zen Patent was awarded to Creative for its invention of the user interface for portable media players, including many of the Creative Zen and NOMAD Jukebox MP3 players, and found in some competing players, such as the Apple iPod and iPod mini,” the company said in its announcement of the patent win.

“Creative’s invention for the user interface for portable media players enables selection of at least one track in a portable media player as a user sequentially navigates through a hierarchy using three or more successive screens on the display of the player,” the company explains. “One example would be the sequence of screens that could display artists, then albums, and then tracks. When the user selects an artist, the player displays a list of albums for that artist. Selection of one of the listed albums then displays a list of tracks on the album.”

Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of Creative, said the interface was invented by Creative engineers more than a year before the iPod was introduced.

“The user interface covered by the Zen Patent was invented by Creative research and development engineers in our Advanced Technology Center in Scotts Valley, California,” said Hoo. “The first portable media player based upon the user interface covered in our Zen Patent was our NOMAD Jukebox MP3 player. We shipped the NOMAD Jukebox to U.S. retail customers in September of 2000, and by November of 2000, it was already ranked as the top revenue-generating product in the U.S. in the digital audio player category, according to PC Data. By January of 2001, we announced that we had already sold 100,000 NOMAD Jukeboxes. The Apple iPod was only announced in October 2001, 13 months after we had been shipping the NOMAD Jukebox based upon the user interface covered by our Zen Patent.”

“There has been press coverage recently regarding the rejection of Apple’s patent application, published as Pub. No. U.S. 2004/0055446 for a user interface in a multimedia player,” Hoo continued. “This Apple patent application was filed on 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.”

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How can you patent, or rather, what’s so novel about “sequentially navigates through a hierarchy using three or more successive screens”. Haven’t interfaces been doing that for 10s of years?

Posted by Chris on August 30, 2005 at 10:39 AM (CDT)


You can pretty much patent anything, however, that patent may not hold up in later court battles.  That said, Apple could have a SERIOUS problem on their hands if they are held to have violated Creative’s patent.

Posted by Brett B. on August 30, 2005 at 11:00 AM (CDT)


This is why I can’t stand look-and-feel patents and software patents in general.  Ironically, Apple were the ones who started the trend, sueing anyone else who implemented a “wastebasket” on their desktop systems. 

Not that I’m saying Apple deserves this or that it’s Karma or whatever.  I just found it ironic.  Somebody please stop the patent madness.

Posted by phennphawcks on August 30, 2005 at 11:09 AM (CDT)


You’ve got to be kidding. Isn’t there a rule that patents must be “non-obvious?” A 3rd grader could have come up with this system for navigating music. There is nothing novel about it, it’s simply the only logical way to do it. Screw patents.

Posted by Action on August 30, 2005 at 11:16 AM (CDT)



Recent decisions by the courts have tended to not rule a patent invalid for obviousness since hindsight is 20/20. The standard is pretty high.

Posted by Mike on August 30, 2005 at 11:42 AM (CDT)


Ireelevant, by the time that any ruling against Apple is decided on they will have migrated to a better interface anyway. An icon based interface for example. This patent is too wide ranging anyway.

Posted by Bhaal on August 30, 2005 at 12:02 PM (CDT)


It’s not a case of it being an obvious design, its the only one. If you cant view music in the way that the iPod and all other digital music players do there is very little choice of alternative interface. The sequential/random interface of the iPod shuffle/cd players is just about the only useable choice. Its like patenting walking one foot after the other, there are other ways of wakling but none that are as obvious or as useable at it.

Posted by Peter on August 30, 2005 at 12:19 PM (CDT)


Wow! Big Business as usual…isn’t that a change! This legal bantering is SOP for all large businesses. So what’s new?

Posted by FahrenheiPod 451 on August 30, 2005 at 1:01 PM (CDT)


Tech question… lets say that the patent DOES cause problems for Apple and they need to change the navigation process…. Would a firmware update be possible to completely redesign the interface… or would we be stuck with the old version and have to get a new iPod to get the new interactive way…. I’m just saying because I woudl like an Icon based navigation system.

Posted by Pnut on August 30, 2005 at 1:12 PM (CDT)


Apple can’t change their navigation system as it’s pretty much perfect (aside from continious scrolling) therefore it looks to me like Apple might need to pay royalties for every iPod sold.

Posted by Rene Ortiz on August 30, 2005 at 1:22 PM (CDT)


Does this remind anyone of the Lotus 123 vs. Borland Quattro and slash command menu structure?

Posted by Shawn on August 30, 2005 at 1:30 PM (CDT)


Didn’t Microsoft just win a similar patent a couple of months ago?

Posted by Sts10188 on August 30, 2005 at 3:38 PM (CDT)


Amazon works this way too.

Search for an artist.

Click on an album.

Sample one of the tracks.


I bet this patent gets crucified in court.

Posted by iconmaster on August 30, 2005 at 4:01 PM (CDT)


Geez guys, give Creative a little credit for what they did for digital music.  They may not have perfected the navigation syste (like some feel Apple has), but they are definitely one of the companies that got this whole digital music thing going.

Posted by Talking Madness on August 30, 2005 at 4:32 PM (CDT)


Read the book FREEDOM OF [removed]2005) by McLoed - it will blow you away.

Posted by panchourbano on August 30, 2005 at 4:44 PM (CDT)


This sounds like another sleazy way to gain market share the underhanded way. Litigation, not actual sales.
Other foreign companies take similar measures to get market share.
Instead of trying to lay claim to one specific patent, they just publicize a patent so people can create similar patents that are similar in nature but worded differently enough to not be considered infringement.
This is cheap and sorry.

Try making a superior product instead of shooting the wheels off of apple to gain market share.

Posted by the cobra on August 30, 2005 at 4:52 PM (CDT)


the “Creative iPod” kinda has a nice ring to it. Hey I trully enjoy my iPod but i migrated from a Creative Nomad Jukebox 2 & 3.  Very similar GUI, only difference at the time was size.

What bothers me is if Apple had gotten this patent, some of you guys would be all over Creative for using it.

Posted by alexcue on August 30, 2005 at 5:35 PM (CDT)


Some beer company has patented the word Canada. The USPO is the stupidest group of you-know-whats in the book.

Posted by *meep* on August 30, 2005 at 6:20 PM (CDT)


You know, virtually the very next thing that Creative did after this patent was filed was to fire most of the “Advanced Technology Center” engineers and move pretty much all of its design to China and back to Singapore.

Most of Creative’s ATC people were snapped up by Apple (it’s only a short distance between Scott’s Valley/Santa Cruz and Cupertino, and most of the people lived in San Jose to begin with). Many of the old Creative people were directly involved in the Mini design, which probably accounts for its funkier color scheme and similarity to the Zen Touch.

Apple also hired away many of the Rio engineers from SonicBlue in Mountain View.

So although Apple doesn’t have a patent lock, it has managed to scoop up most of the old-timer mp3 player engineers in the Valley. Patents are over-rated.

Posted by Demosthenes on August 30, 2005 at 6:54 PM (CDT)


“Didn’t Microsoft just win a similar patent a couple of months ago?”

Similar, but not the same. And it’s not awarded yet; the patent office ruled that it was filed prior to Apple’s a couple or so weeks ago. The actual awarding of the patent is expected to occur later this year.

The Microsoft patent was primarily for a system that learns how to compile playlists automatically on its own based upon a user’s listening habits. The fact that it had language for a hierarchial menu system was secondary, even though it impacted Apple’s own filing. However, the main body of MSFT’s filing is very different from the Apple filing, or even Creative’s, for that matter.

However, all the press about how MSFT’s application cut Apple off at the knees seems VERY WRONG. Creative’s own patent filing should’ve been the real focus, but I guess all these tech “experts” that the NYT, WSJ, etc., rely upon completely missed the boat on this one.

I’ve always been critical about Apple’s filing, since earlier examples of hierachial menu systems have existed. Frankly IMO Creative doesn’t deserve the patent award, either, considering the history of database interface design, except that if they kept the scope of their hierarchial patent narrow in terms of applying MP3 players, they probably DO a legal and binding claim against all others who use similar systems (i.e., Apple’s iPod).

In general, not a good day for Cupertino, especially given the reports circulating that their uber-Motorola iPod phone ONLY holds 25-30 songs.

Posted by flatline response on August 30, 2005 at 7:18 PM (CDT)

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