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Creative steps on iPod

Ridiculous patent gives it a chance for a bite of Apple

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US trade authorities have started investigating a complaint against Apple that could have its iPod banned from sale in the United States. The International Trade Commission (ITC) voted to launch the investigation in response to a complaint by Creative Labs that the Apple iPod infringes one of its patents.

The investigation will report within 45 days with a preliminary decision on whether Creative's complaint should be upheld. The Singaporean PC gadget manufacturer has requested ITC put a permanent exclusion on the import of iPods into the US, which would effectively halt their sale as they are all manufactured overseas.

Creative's complaint rests on a patent it filed in 2001 and was awarded last year for the navigation of a digital music library on a little screen.

The blurb of Creative's complaint (111-page .pdf) to the ITC said Apple had courted Creative in 2001, after the latter had already wooed techie shows with its MP3 player, but before Apple had launched its own.

It said Apple gave the impression it wanted to do a joint venture with the Singaporean firm. But the idea of a deal evaporated after Apple had seen Creative's etchings. By the end of the year Apple had announced its own player, the now ubiquitous iPod, which Creative alleges utilised its own patented (then pending) plans.

The innovation that this case rests on was one that Creative said had taken its Californian engineers "months of work and development".

It consists of a means of organising a digital library of music. As the patent has been awarded already its inventive merit is of no consequence to the case. Basically, it organises a digital music library using a hierarchy of, you guessed it, common descriptors like album, artist and song title. ®

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