Creative Labs, the company that has been struggling in the digital music player market longer than Apple has been making iPods, announced it has filed a patent infringement suit against Apple Computer over the interface to its iPod and iPod nano music players.
Creative claims Apple's products infringe on its "Zen" patent (U.S. patent 6,928,433), which it applied for in January 2001 but which was granted only in August of 2005. The patent covers the organization and navigation of music tracks on high-capacity portable digital music players. Creative claims it implemented and demonstrated its interface as early as January 2000; Apple's first iPods didn't ship until October 2001.
Creative's suit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California; the company has also filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission seeking an investigation of whether Apple's importing of iPods from Taiwan is a violation of the Tariff Act of 1930. Creative is seeking an injunction against Apple importing, marketing, or selling its current iPod and iPod nano music players: if granted, such an injunction would be a major blow to Apple's music business.
When Creative announced it had been awarded the "Zen" patent, industry speculation already had the company seeking license fees from Apple Computer; at the time, Creative merely said it was examining all options. Patent license income from a product as widespread as the iPod would certainly help a company which posted a $114 million loss in its most recent fiscal quarter. However, Creative's filing would indicate the companies were not able to reach an agreement, or Apple thinks Creative's patent lacks merit, or that it can keep selling iPods while weathering an undoubtedly long and technical patent lawsuit.
Apple has yet to publicly comment on Creative's suit, but actions speak louder than words: on the same day Creative launched its legal action, Apple filed suit against Creative in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, alleging infringement on four of Apple's patents, then updating its complaint two days later to include a total of seven Apple patents. Such tit-for-tat legal maneuvering is common, and often the countersuit results in a settlement rather than both suits being followed to their ultimate end.