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Monday, June 20, 2005, 02:20 pm PT (05:20 pm ET)

Apple sued over iTunes software interface

Apple Computer, Inc. has been slapped with a lawsuit over iTunes, AppleInsider has learned.

Contois Music Technology last week asked a Federal Court to stop the iPod maker from distributing its iTunes jukebox software and is seeking damages over an alleged patent violation by the iTunes software.

The suit, filed on June 13th in Vermont District Court, alleges that Apple's iTunes software design infringes on Contois' six-year old design patent (US Patent No. 5,864,868) entitled "Computer Control System and User Interface for Media Playing Devices."

The Essex Junction, Vt.-based Contois is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining Apple from further distributing its iTunes software in its current form. The company also asked the Court for an unspecified amount of monetary damages resulting from Apple's "copying and willful infringement" of its design patent as well as reimbursement of legal fees associated with the lawsuit.

In the 10-page suit obtained by AppleInsider, lawyers for Contois said that David Contois conceived of and developed a computer interface for playing music on an internal or external computer-responsive music device, which he then exhibited at the 1995 COMDEX trade show and the 1996 NAMM music industry trade show.

According to the suit, persons who were at the time employed by or later became employed by Apple were present at both trade shows and viewed Contois' software. The suit charges Apple later "copied" the invention and used the design ideas in the interface for its iTunes software.

Specifically, Contois documented 19 interface aspects of the iTunes software that it claims are in direct violation of Contois' patent. These areas include iTunes' menu selection process to allow the user to select music to be played, the ability of the software to transfer music tracks to a portable music player, and search capabilities such as sorting music tracks by their genre, artist and album attributes.

Contois claims to have notified Apple in writing of its patent in September 2004 but believed that Apple became aware of the patent on its own more than 18 months earlier in January 2003.

"By reason of Apple's infringing activities, Contois has suffered, and will continue to suffer, substantial damages in an amount yet to be determined," the suit reads. "On information and belief, Apple's infringement has been and continues to be willful."

Since its launch in Jan. 2001, Apple's iTunes software has grown to serve an installed user-base of millions and is distributed free-of-charge via Apple's website as well as with each iPod digital music player the company sells. The iTunes software is also the primary access point to Apple's industry-leading iTunes Music Store, which is available in 19 countries and has served more than 450 million downloaded songs worldwide.

Lawyers for Spink & Miller, PLC, the Virginia-based firm representing Contois, were out on business and did not respond to inquiries for comment by press time.

Contois is seeking a trial by jury.

Contois Exhibit Comparing Both Software Application Interfaces
"iTunes