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Crave Talk: Creative vs Apple -- why sue now?

Creative says Apple's iPod has violated an interface patent it holds. But given that Creative was awarded this patent almost a whole year ago, why wait until now to sue?

If you can't beat them, sue them. MP3 player manufacturer Creative has filed two legal actions against Apple, claiming that the iPod infringes on a patent for hierarchical menus Creative applied for in 2001 and was awarded in August 2005.

Though the Internet is thrumming with examples of prior-art that undermine Creative's claims of inventing the hierarchical menu, there's something even more sinister at work here. If Creative was awarded the patent in the middle of 2005, why has it waited almost an entire year to unleash it?

The obvious answer would be that Creative has been watching Apple like a farmer watches his neighbour's prize cow through the farmhouse window. As her belly grows big and her muscles strong, the farmer considers various seasonings, sauces and salads he'll use to accompany the cow's inevitable arrival on his plate. He won't rustle the cow this summer, but next summer, and when she's chewed her way through another season, she's his. It's a cynical theory, but we're dealing with lawyers here, remember.

The alternative possibility is that Creative has spent all this time carefully crafting a court case of such staggering genius and wit that it will force Apple to turn over the Cupertino campus -- at which point the place will be sacked and razed to the ground by gleeful patent lawyers slapping each other on the back and sloshing beer kegs around like overgrown frat boys.

More likely, Apple will demonstrate its wealth of prior art, ranging from the 'column view' available on the Apple Lisa back in 1980, or in Steve Jobs' NeXT OS a few years later -- or in any number of other devices and operating systems since. Creative will relent, happy with its publicity stunt, and slide back into the comfortable level of mediocrity it's been so good at maintaining these last few years.

If only Creative would put its efforts into pushing forward with its own product designs, rather than litigating its way to a slice of Apple's pie. We're weary of these uninspired and unpleasant law suits. The Creative vs Apple patent case reads depressingly like Steven Segal claiming he invented acting. -Chris Stevens