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Apple-licensed iPod navigation patent invalidated by US regulatory agency

A patent that Creative Technologies used in the beginning of the century against the iPod forcing a $100 million payout by Apple has been invalidated, saving the rest of the smartphone industry from costly settlements and protracted legal battles.




First spotted by Law360, Administrative Law Judge David Shaw of the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) has ruled that Creative Technology's patent that addresses music library navigation and sorting in the iPod, and now iOS overall, was too abstract to be eligible for a patent.

In August 2006, Apple reached an out-of-court settlement with Creative Technology for the patent just potentially ruled invalid by the USPTO. Apple paid Creative a single license fee of $100 million to use Creative's software interface patent, which had just been awarded to Creative at the time, for all Apple products.

Creative defended patent number 6,928,433 before the USPTO earlier this year by claiming that as a result of the 2006 agreement forged over the iPod's software, thousands of jobs at Apple were created, and would be in danger if the patent was invalidated.

"These innovative inventions of the '433 patent have now become ubiquitous in the industry," Creative's complaint to the USPTO said in May. "While Apple Inc., which uses these inventions in its iPod and iPhone products, has taken a license, others in the industry have made use of Creative's invention without permission."

Creative filed for the patent violation investigation against Blackberry, HTC, Lenovo-owned Motorola, LG, Samsung, Sony, and ZTE and was seeking a wide array of products be banned from sale in the U.S. The ruling on Friday was made under the USPTO's new 100-day program to streamline the patent complaint process, which can stretch on for years, well after the products alleged to be infringing patents are irrelevant in the marketplace.

Judge Shaw's ruling is still reviewable by the full USPTO commission of judges, and may be overturned upon examination. The ruling will not stop Creative's lawsuits against several of the manufacturers in the federal court in the Eastern District of Texas, also known as the "rocket docket" for patent trials.