Bad Reporting in Progress – Or How MS Didn't Invent the iPod

Follow me dear reader and watch how bad reporting happens.

Five days ago, Appleinsider.com reported that Apple was not granted a patent on part of the iPod user interface because they did not apply for the patent until 5 months after they shipped the iPod and in the meantime, some dork at Microsoft ran to the Patent office and tried to patent the technology Apple was already shipping.

Now there are a few things to remember before we begin… Not the least of which is that Appleinsider is a rumor site. While I’m sure these guys do their best to get their facts right, it is a rumor site… Everything is, by definition, subject to change without notice. The next nugget that will be helpful later is that Apple can still appeal. (You might read the original article, it will help)

So what happens when a rumor site puts up a rumor like that? Bad Reporting.

Did Microsoft Invent The iPod?
8/12/2005
If you think Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs invented the technology behind the Apple iPod, don’t bet your 60GB, 15,000-song model on it.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, patent applications that cover much of the technology associated with the iPod were submitted by Microsoft, which has been on a patents tear recently filing thousands of patents.

If the patents hold up on appeal, Apple could be accountable for royalties on the spectacularly successful iPod. Jobs and others associated with Apple filed for patents covering the technology in October, 2002, but that application was rejected by the patent office last month. AppleInsider.com reported the rejection this week.

So we went from a rumor that a patent was rejected to Microsoft inventing the iPod and Apple having to pay royalties on it. My how the story grew huh? But that’s just techweb, certainly nobody in the MSM would make that leap right? – um wrong.

Katherine Griffiths writing for The Independent:

Apple blunder gives Gates iPod royalty

Apple Computer may be forced to pay royalties to Microsoft for every iPod it sells after it emerged that Bill Gates’s software giant beat Steve Jobs’ firm in the race to file a crucial patent on technology used in the popular portable music players. The total bill could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Although Apple introduced the iPod in November 2001, it did not file a provisional patent application until July 2002, and a full application was filed only in October that year.

In the meantime, Microsoft submitted an application in May 2002 to patent some key elements of music players, including song menu software.

So now the rumor on Appleinsider has been reported as fact and upgraded to a “blunder” worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” That was fast. She acknowledges that she too got the story from Appleinsider which had none of those details. Clearly she invented the number.

But there’s even more problems in her story….

Closer inspection says the Microsoft patent was rejected. It was modified in December of 2003 but Techweb INCORRECTLY says the patent was approved. It is still an application. [uspto.gov]

In reality it will not be approved because of this little thing called Prior Art. As you might have guessed, you can’t patent something someone else is already shipping. Further in the US we use a “First to Invent” method rather than a “First to File.” Clearly since the Apple product was ~you know~ shipping, they invented it before Microsoft and clearly the MS application was not novel.

So why did Apple wait so long for the patent application? Probably because it just was not important. (and you aspiring inventors should know this) Once you ship (or publish info about) an invention you lose the right to patent it. Apple will lose on appeal and frankly, I’m not even sure why they bothered, probably only because Microsoft filed. [Update: I’ve been reminded there can be 1 year grace periods extended on patents.]

But I’m digressing into patent law and this is about bad reporting.

So watch in the next few days how this story grows… The whole thing is poor analysis of a rumor that even if true is meaningless… But that won’t stop the media from getting the whole story wrong.

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Footnote: I’ve said both Apple and Microsoft will eventually have thier applications rejected AND if the USPTO has any credibility left that will be the case. (for the reasons stated above) Having said that, judging the PTO is worse than guessing the outcome of the Supreme Court… I gave up making predictions after they granted a patent for a stick!

Update: You can continue to watch the bad reporting get worse here.

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18 Comments

  1. JimK August 14, 2005
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