Written by: Adam Christianson
Well, seems like the media spin over the so called Microsoft iPod patent is even bigger than we thought. Look at what listener Nick just pointed out to me:
I wanted to comment on something you talked about in your 8-17 show regarding Apple’s iPod patent problems. There seems to be a lot of misinformation regarding this story and I’m glad you talked about this. One thing that I’m not sure if you’re aware of though, is that Microsoft’s patent application has been turned down too, so they don’t hold the patent on this technology either. They simply turned the application in before Apple did. This is still unclear but from what I understand, the descriptions on both applications are too vague and overlap one another somewhat. The patent that Microsoft filed seems to have more in common with Smart Playlists and the way that a device could assemble a playlist by looking at a user’s habits, etc. (similar to the way Amazon.com suggests other products you might like based on products you’ve already purchased). Regardless of what happens with Apple’s patent, it looks like Microsoft will have a hard time getting the rights to this because it seems to be a pretty basic use of databases.
There is some good additional information over on the Register, read it here.
Apple’s Patent Filing (Robbin, Jobs, Schiller)
Microsoft’s Patent Filing (Platt)
The application was rejected in 2004, However, it was reaplied around April 2005 and MS did get the patent finaly.
One more thing is that of prior art. I clearly remember about MS XML patent, which had prior art namely SXP. SXP, a library for converting C++ programming objects into XML files, was made available on Sourceforge in February 2000. Microsoft filed its patent for the conversion of programming objects into XML files in June 2001, over a year later. On basis of this MS patent can be revoked. (http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/applications/0,39020384,39201784,00.htm)
I do not know if it has been revoked or not. Apple SHOULD use prior art and get the patent back.
Do we really care at the end of the day about this? I’m sure Apple is working already on a new interface for the future ipods. I’m not going to lose any sleep over this. As the features grow on the iPod, (I own the iPod Photo)it seems that I need to scoll more and more to get where I want. I don’t need the main menu full of custom shortcuts, I know you can do that already. This navigation process was nice in the beginning, but now I’m starting not to like it anymore.
I’m sure Steve is working his employees in Cupertino overtime, to come up with something amazing. Maybe Jonathan Ives has already created something special.
I’ve made several successful registrations at the Patent & Trademark Office. There is no doubt that the PTO is a big grey area that is largely managed/controlled/overruled by a vast number of clerks and lawyers. Disputes are handled in a slipshod manner and rightful patent/tm owners are not always granted rights.
In the case of Apple vs Microsoft, I have a sneaking suspicion that Ives at MSFT may have heard rumors about the iPod interface and decided to beat Apple to the filing. It happens more than one would hope or expect.
This just highlights why software and process patents are just plain wrong.
You should be able to patent a specific light bulb, not the process by which light is generated.
I absolutely hate the idea of software patents (and to a certain degree, hardware too). They inhibit innovation. At the very least, a software patent should have a minimal life span – say 5 years tops. If a company hasn’t got anywhere or made money within 5 years then they don’t deserve to milk everyone else for, what seems like the case most of the time, trivial/obvious ideas. I’d like to see software patents scrapped altogether.
Regarding the iPod interface. I agree with jon on that one. The root menu is getting convoluted and less simple. Having a root menu option “music”, on a dedicated music player, seems daft to me. Okay, so you can customise it to show albums, artists and playlists etc in the root menu, but this should be default, and most of the other default stuff should be shifted out the way. I noticed this has got worse with more recent generations of iPod. Darn, I just noticed the battery on my 3G iPod is stuffed too, and I can’t simply switch the battery myself (at least, not easily AFAIK) for another one. The iPod has several flaws, and good though it is, it’s not perfect. Companies should have the flexibility to copy some of the interface aspects of the iPod and improve on the bits Apple got wrong. If the hardware patents were restricted to 5 years too then it would be around now we would see improved “ipods” from other companies. We would see better music players because companies would adopt the best bits, and it would give Apple a kick up the jacksie to innovate more. For me the iPod has hardly changed in several years.