Is Apple Heading for an iPod Patent Tussle?
This is the question after Singapore-based Creative Technology (Creative) recently held a press conference to announce that it had been granted a US patent and simultaneously listed various similarities between its patented technology and that employed in Apple’s iPod and iPod mini. Although Creative would not say how, if at all, it would attempt to enforce its patent rights, commentators have found it strange that a company that annually files numerous new patent applications would hold a press conference simply to announce the grant of a new patent.
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted the patent in question - US 6,928,433 - on 9 August 2005, for a user interface technology which allows a user to navigate and select tracks on its MP3 player. Creative uses this technology in its Creative Zen and Nomad Jukebox MP3 players. Creative had applied for its patent in January 2001, while Apple launched iPod in the latter half of the same year.
Although Apple and Creative may use similar technology in their MP3 players, it does not follow that Apple’s iPod infringes the Creative patent. In order to succeed in an infringement action, Creative will have to prove that the Apple iPod falls within the scope of the monopoly defined by the claims of US patent 6,928,433.
The latest development in the Apple iPod saga comes only a few weeks after it became known that Apple’s own patent application covering its music interface had been rejected by the USPTO in the light of a disclosure made in an earlier patent granted to Microsoft. Earlier in the year, Microsoft’s chairman Bill Gates is reported to have said that it would work with Creative and other companies to produce improved MP3 players to counter the market success of the Apple iPod.
According to analysts, Apple owns roughly 50% of the global MP3 market compared to the 10% of Creative Technology.
Whether or not this affects iPod and MP3 users in South Africa will depend on whether Creative obtained a South African patent for its invention. As a patent is a territorial right, if Creative only applied for patent protection in the US but omitted to seek patent protection in South Africa, it will not be able to rely on its granted US patent for the protection of its technology in South Africa.