Apple is involved in some interesting patent cases filed this week in the federal district courts of Texas. One suit claims that Apple’s iTunes Store (among many others) infringes a patent for what is essentially an online store for music downloads. Another lawsuit claims that Safari, DVD Player, Front Row, and even Mac OS X itself infringe on a number of patents related to adjustable length displays of text and other data.
The first lawsuit, filed in the Eastern patent-district of Texas, comes from Sound Distribution LLC, which has rights to a patent for “distribution of music products by a web vendor over the internet.” The patent in question describes what functionality any website you’ve visited to buy a music record, including music previews, purchase purchases, and even an accompanying app to legally play the music you’ve purchased. The patent targeting Apple in the provision of recorded music has a unique identifier contained in the file to link the files to a specific buyer.
Sony and its various subsidiaries, Rhapsody, Napster, Brilliant Digital Entertainment, and Microsoft are also named as executors. If anyone seems to be missing from that list, namely Amazon (for its Amazon MP3 Store), don’t panic; Audio Distribution has filed a similar patent against Amazon, Netflix, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, and GameStop that refers to a slightly different, but unspecified title patent with a unique key in the files that record. If one of these stages decides in Audio Distribution’s favor, it could have far-reaching effects on digital music distribution for the next decade. But the patent may be too broad to enforce.
In another case, this time coming from the Western District of Texas, the interaction design stopped MONKEYmedia claims that certain versions of Mac OS X and Safari infringe on the company’s patents related to “pure infringement.” This is a rather loose term for “cutting out unnecessary parts.”
MONKEYmedia founder Eric Gould is named as an inventor on three similar patents, all titled “Computer user interface with non-salience focus.” The patents describe methods for displaying different values of a piece of data based on a user’s control. As the user adjusts to display smaller data values, the “non-salient” pieces are “volumetric”; In other words, only the most important parts of the data are shown.
MONKEYmedia claims that Safari’s RSS feed reading features violate these patents by removing its adjustability for controlling the amount of content displayed in the feed display. This control can display articles in full, or a variety of short summaries, using an algorithm that can summarize the content of an article. Similarly, the lawsuit targets Mac OS X’s built-in “Summary”, which applies the same algorithm to any word in any theme-based application.
The case suggests that the DVD Player and Front Row, included in Mac OS X, also violate a specific claim (claim 6 of patent 6,335,730) related to the display of objects which represent a “composite” of video data. It is not clear what parts of these applications break, although it may refer to either segment markers or possibly frames used to break through a video stream. At any rate, it seems that this particular claim may also apply to any DVD player, streaming video player, or non-standard video editing software.