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Creative Technology beats Apple on MP3 patent

Play this, sucker

Creative Technology has been crowing after it was awarded a patent for MP3 player interface technology used by devices like rival Apple's popular iPod.

Creative, maker of the Creative Zen and Nomad Jukebox MP3 players, said Tuesday it was "very excited" by the patent award, adding this "recognized" the company's innovation in this highly competitive and lucrative field.

The chuffed Creative reminded the MP3 buying public and a fickle industry, that it - and not its sexier, market leading rival Apple - was first to market with an MP3 player.

News of Creative's successful application is the second patent blow to Apple's iPod this month. AppleInsider reported in early August that a three-year battle by Apple to patent the iPod's menu-based interface had proved unsuccessful, thanks to a prior filing by inventor and Microsoft research scientist John Platt.

Platt's application described a system to "generate playlists for a library collection of media items via selecting a plurality of seed items, at least one of which is an undesirable seed item."

After Apple's original filing was rejected, the company sought a review of an amended set of claims to its patent, whose primary creators are listed as chief executive Steve Jobs and vice president Jeff Robbin. That review proved unsuccessful.

The Zen patent covers the selection by the user of a least one track in a portable media player as a user navigates through a hierarchy using three or more successive screens. Sound familiar?

Creative has been employing the interface since September 2000, when the Nomad Jukebox first appeared. Apple's iPod debuted in October 2001, with Apple filing its patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in October 2002.

Unfortunately for Creative, though, it is the late coming iPod that is ahead in the game. iPod has up to 75 per cent market share, according to some analysts, compared to just a fraction of the market for Creative. Creative also saw its recent fourth quarter revenue grow 51 per cent, down from initial estimates of between 65 per cent and 80 per cent. The company blamed "slower than expected overall market demand for MP3 players", which are believed to make up 68 per cent of Creative's revenue.

Apple, arguably, might also be credited with having popularized MP3 players among the music buying public with skilled marketing, advertising and branding, and an ability to keep fuelling demand through its relatively limited manufacturing capacity.

On Tuesday, though, Creative was biting back, although it made no mention of plans to enforce the patent and potentially charge Apple for use rights. Sim Wong Hoo, Creative's chairman and CEO, let rip in a statement. "I am very excited that we were awarded the Zen patent, which helps to protect our invention and recognizes our innovation in portable media players," Hoo said.

"After a major investment of time and effort by a group of our research and development engineers, we developed a way for a user to efficiently and intuitively navigate and select tracks from a significant number of tracks stored on a player. Before this invention, there was no intuitive and efficient way to deal with the large number of tracks that could be stored on a high-capacity player," Hoo added.®

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