Apple Computer Inc. is attempting to patent its interface for its iPod music player with the U.S. government.
On Thursday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office made public patent application number 20040055446, covering “graphical user interface and methods of use thereof in a multimedia player.”
In the application, which was filed with the USPTO on Oct. 28, 2002, Apple lists three inventors: Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs, as well as Jeffrey L. Robbin and Timothy Wasko.
Robbin moved over to Apple in 2000 when Apple acquired from Casady & Greene Inc. SoundJam MP software for encoding MP3 tracks from CDs and organizing them into playlists.
Wasko, Apple’s visual interaction designer, came to Apple in 1997 from Next Software Inc. when Jobs returned to Apple from Next.
It is not unusual for a company to attempt to patent a user interface, according to Steven Frank, a partner specializing in patent and intellectual property law with the law firm Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault LLP.
“Such a patent, should it be granted, is a means of enforcing a proprietary architecture, but that is pretty passé at this point,” Frank said.
Though it is difficult to know what Apple might do with its patent, Frank speculated that the Cupertino, Calif., company could use it to prevent other companies from making iPod knock-offs, or as a way of maintaining control over how the iPod talks to other devices.
It is standard practice for the USPTO to publish an application about 18 months after it is first submitted, and Frank estimated that for this type of technology it will take between two and three years for the USPTO to decide whether it will grant Apple’s request, meaning the patent could be granted about six months from now.
In deciding whether to grant the patent, the USPTO will consider whether the technology was in widespread use at the time the application was filed, Frank said. “All the Patent Office cares about is the inventiveness of the technology at the time of the application,” he said.
Should another company or individual feel that Apple’s iPod interface is not unique, that person or company can file a competing patent application, Frank said.
“Because of the uniqueness of U.S. patent law, the USPTO gives priority to the first to invent, rather than the first to file. In all other countries in the world, priority is given to the first to file,” Frank said.