Should patents be device or task specific?

Should patents be device or task specific?

Summary: I was reading The Register's coverage of a talk given by Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo who claims that implementations of side-scrolling hierarchical menus such as those found on Apple's iPods are infringing on his company's recently awarded patent (US patent 6,928,433).  Apparently, the first appearance of such a user interface showed up on one of Creative's early generation MP3 players in 2000.

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TOPICS: Patents
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I was reading The Register's coverage of a talk given by Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo who claims that implementations of side-scrolling hierarchical menus such as those found on Apple's iPods are infringing on his company's recently awarded patent (US patent 6,928,433).  Apparently, the first appearance of such a user interface showed up on one of Creative's early generation MP3 players in 2000.   The Register story went on to size up the royalty factor that Creative might be able to tap into by citing the expectation that Apple should sell 22 million iPods by the end of the year. 

Having used Apple's Macs extensively, it seems to me that the user interface found on iPods is just a slight variation on the Mac's filesystem browser (particularly the 'Open' and 'Save' dialogs).  Both browse for digitally stored infromation.  Both go sideways as they dig deeper.  Or how about the sideways exploding JavaScript or DHTML menus that have been around forever. What was the first Web site to use those?  To me, the iPod's version of these menus just seems to be a very cleverly reworked derivative that's designed to accomodate the iPod's tiny display. Given that all of these are essentially sideways oriented file browsers, I'm not sure the differences make one so unique that it's deserving of a patent (probably why I could never get a job as a patent inspector... not that I'd want one).  So, my questions are:

  • Referring to the UI on the Mac vs. that of the iPod, is one just a derivation of the other? And what of similar menus on the Web?
  • If so, what came first?
  • If the Mac OS 'implementation' came first, did it come before or after Creative's MP3 player shipped in 2000?
  • If it did, and the answer to the derivative question is yes, could Apple or someone else make a prior art claim that invalidates Creative's patent? 
  • If it didn't, could Creative claim that Mac's infringe on its patent as well?
  • Back to the derivation question, if one isn't just a derivation of the other, what do you think makes them different enough from each other or from similar implementations on the Web, enough to warrant a patent?
It's not that I believe Apple's iPods are worthy of my defense (as I've written before, I think you should steer clear of iPods as well as anything else containing proprietary DRM technology).  It's really more about wondering whether patents should be device/task specific.  Can I, for example, patent a slight variation for car dashboards that uses side-scrolling hierarchical menus to browse the status of a vehicle's various systems (engine, brakes, etc.)? After all, isn't that the same thing? 

Topic: Patents

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  • Don't Cry So Much For Apple

    Referring to the patenting of software as the laying down of mines is, I believe, very appropriate. I personally have little sympathy for companies that not only acquire software patents, but also encourage the industry to do so. In large part, all we can do is sit back and watch these companies get injured on each other mines, until they figure out how best to deal with software patents issue on their own. As far as I?m concerned, those who live by the software patent sword, will die by the software patent sword.
    P. Douglas
    • Message has been deleted.

      sigmaman1
  • Patents

    Software patents should be abolished. Software should be covered by copyright only.

    Lets see a proliferation of software patent suits. I would like to see every company who supports software patents tied up in patent litigation. Maybe then they will "get it" and use their powerful lobbyists to have software patents abolished.
    Tim Patterson
  • What a mess

    Patents and copyrights need to be revised, reworked, and rethought. It's all broken. And by the moneyed interests that keeps "tweaking" the system, corporations.
    ordaj@...
  • Message has been deleted.

    sigmaman1
    • Stock prices

      Someone should also look at their stock prices and stock options of the executives as this goes forward.

      These types of issue will continue to be raised as long as patents are given by people that are not technical specialist in the fields. They should have a 2 year limit on any software patents. That would also limit all of these patent lawsuits that are frivolous (or in some cases just money grubbing).

      I wonder if anyone has ever patented the use of Number in with letters. L33t sp34k NE1? I wonder how far we can push the patent envelope before it finally explodes.
      Silent Observer
  • RIM

    RIM has always been aggressive and sued anyone who tried to compete against them. They are a monopoly. It is about time, regardless of the validity of their patents, got a taste of their own medicine. Their products are marginal at best, their software (firmware) is generations behind. Their days are numbered anyway. With wireless Internet becoming popular, their proprietary technology will become obsolete.
    stevench