The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued Apple a patent for its media player software interface on May 4, along with several other features of the company's high-profile products. Other parts of the iTunes software, including the ability to stream songs over a network to another copy of the program, had been the subject of earlier patents.
Apple has been the recipient of thousands of patents, ranging--in just in the last month alone--from the iTunes software components to the swivel arm joint supporting the latest iMac's flat-panel screen.
Interface elements have been a key point of concern for the company stretching as far back as the release of the Macintosh operating system, however. The company sued Microsoft for copyright infringement after early releases of Windows proved similar in conception to the Macintosh desktop concept, which itself was predated by work done at the Xerox PARC research facility.
Apple lost that copyright case, and has since relied more heavily on patenting components of its technology, as well as its hardware designs. Early in March, for example, the federal patent office published the company's application for afor its popular iPod digital music player.
An Apple spokeswoman said the company does not comment on its patents or patent applications, which are public record.
While software patents have become increasingly common in the past few years--leading to long and contentious strings of litigation over seemingly basic computing techniques--not all companies are taking Apple's approach.
A RealNetworks spokesman said his company does not hold any directly comparable interface patents for its 10-year-old media player software, for example.