Apple is facing potential iPod patent problems with news that Creative Technology has won the patent for a user interface for digital music players.
This news comes weeks after the US patent office awarded another digital-music interface patent to Microsoft.
Creative calls the patent (US Patent 6,928,433) the "Zen Patent".
"The Zen Patent was awarded to Creative for its invention of the user interface for portable media players, including many of the Creative Zen and Nomad Jukebox MP3 players", the company said.
In a potential warning of courtroom drama to come, Creative adds that interfaces covered by the Zen Patent can also be, "found in some competing players, such as the iPod and iPod mini".
The Zen Patent covers the user interface that enables users of portable media players to efficiently and intuitively navigate among and select tracks on the players, according to Creative.
Creative applied for the Zen Patent on 5 January, 2001 and it was awarded on 9 August, 2005.
Stressing its point, Creative says its invention for the user interface for portable media players enables selection of at least one track in a portable media player as a user "sequentially navigates through a hierarchy using three or more successive screens on the display of the player".
One example of this could be the sequence of screens that could display artists, then albums, and then tracks.
"The user interface covered by the Zen Patent was invented by Creative research and development engineers in our Advanced Technology Center in Scotts Valley, California," said Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of Creative.
"The first portable media player based upon the user interface covered in our Zen Patent was our Nomad Jukebox MP3 player. We shipped the Nomad Jukebox to US retail customers in September 2000, and by November 2000, it was already ranked as the top revenue-generating product in the US in the digital audio player category, according to PC Data. By January of 2001, we announced that we had already sold 100,000 Nomad Jukeboxes. The Apple iPod was only announced in October 2001, 13 months after we had been shipping the Nomad Jukebox based upon the user interface covered by our Zen Patent."
It's a battle-signal, confirmed Sim: "There has been press coverage recently regarding the rejection of Apple's patent application for a user interface in a multimedia player. This Apple patent application was filed on October 28, 2002. A related provisional application was filed by Apple on July 30, 2002, eighteen months after our filing date for the Zen Patent and over twenty months after our Nomad Jukebox based upon our user interface was on the market," he said.
It's unlikely Apple will abandon its efforts to establish its own patent for the iPod user interface.