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Apple challenges Reg to patent duel

New invention has familiar ring

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Apple will fill in some long-awaited missing features from its iPod and iPhone mobile players, a patent application published this week suggests. There's just one problem: Much of Apple's "invention" was dreamed up by Reg readers several years ago - and one embodiment is already on the market.

Publication 20080189390, Remote access of media items tackles the problem of discovering that bits of your home media collection are inaccessible on your iPod or work PC. It describes bouncing the media over a network between devices. The patent application was filed in February 2007.

If implemented, it's sure to be a popular feature. How do we know? Well, wind back to 2002 and you'll see our mailbag bulging with chatter about the "BluePod". This was less than a year after the launch of the original iPod, which was then a Mac-only, Firewire-only novelty item that had yet to capture the public's imagination. Why not stimulate demand, we wondered, by adding a couple of simple technologies: Bonjour (then called Rendezvous) and wireless networking?

"You could get promiscuous with strangers: You could pair and exchange a song on the same short bus ride. You could create short, ad hoc personal broadcasts, to anyone else with a Bluetooth iPod. You could have a 'what am I listening to?' menu option and share your choice with anyone within discoverable range."

Fast forward two years, and here's a bit more "prior art" we knocked up:

The social, self-filling iPod: more music, and more friends

One better, much of what's described in Apple's patent has been delivered in software form by Orb Networks, and in hardware by Sling. It even has an unlovely buzzword: "Placeshifting", although Orb calls it "MyCasting". Orb first showed off its technology in 2004, and has since signed deals with mobile operators including 3, here in the UK.

Orb clearly has grounds to make Apple's lawyers work for their fees - an invention can't be granted if it's already on the market, even if that mechanism is hidden.

But a quick glance at Title 35 of the US Patent Act confirms that "a person shall be entitled to a patent unless [our emphasis] the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent, or… (b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States."

Published? Check. Described? Check. More than one year ago? Check. I think that's us covered.

Reg readers won't need reminding how important it is to defend one's intellectual property. They'll be after Flame of the Week™ next. We await the envelopes. ®

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