Few companies we cover here at IPWatchdog have as much sway in the consumer electronics industry as Apple Inc. of Cupertino, CA. This multinational corporation, also heavily involved in the fields of computer software and personal computers, recently released a cheaper version of the iPhone 5C to Chinese and European markets. The company is also at the center of rumors that they may be in production phases for the new generation of iPhone 6 smartphones for release later this year or next. Not only interested in new markets for devices, Apple is also busy developing several revolutionary apps, including one designed to provide basic health and fitness functions for users.
The intriguing software and hardware innovations of this technology giant makes Apple a fun corporation to profile for our Companies We Follow series. We’ve picked out the most interesting patent applications and issued patents published by the USPTO and assigned to this California-based corporation. These inventions run the gamut from digital media systems to hardware improvements for handheld mobile devices.
We begin our look at Apple today by taking an in-depth look at our featured patent application, which describes smarter methods of building playlists for digital content, like songs. This system can dynamically update playlists based on a user’s changing taste or if another user with a compatible device walks into the room. We also picked up on a few other patent applications featuring revolutionary technologies, including one microphone headset component that enables voice processing by sending data signals through an owner’s bones and body tissues.
Issued patents make up the true strength of any corporation’s intellectual property portfolio, so we wrap up today with a look at Apple’s recently issued patents. We have a trio of patents we’ve noticed that protect some useful software systems for digital media consumption, including one patent that protects a system of renting digital content for a finite amount of time. We also feature a couple of hardware patents, including one protective case with a hinged cover that can selectively cover an iPhone’s touchscreen and a new method of packaging devices so that potential customers can interact with them before buying one.
Intelligent Media Queue
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140075308
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of electronic devices capable of playing back digital media content to a user. Many of these devices are handheld in nature and are often carried by an owner throughout their day. These devices, including smartphones and laptop computers, are capable of running media player programs, storing media files, downloading files from online vendors and even share media streams with others online.
In order to access the media they like the most from the hundreds or thousands of files available on a device, a user can create a playlist. For music players, this allows users to set a list of songs from various genres, artists and albums to play in any desirable order. These playlists can be permanently stored for later access, but they must be manually updated to reflect a user’s changing music tastes. As well, it’s cumbersome to add music to a playlist to reflect the tastes of other people in the room.
This patent application, filed by Apple with the USPTO in September 2012, would protect a system for intelligently managing digital media playback, which includes not just songs but also videos, photos and other content. This system would allow a playlist to be edited in response to a triggering event. Triggering events could include adding a collection of digital media to a device or when a media source changes.
This system would enable multiple people to have input on a single playlist within close proximity. A person’s device can connect remotely with the media player to add songs or other digital content from their own media storage. If that person leaves and the media storage goes offline, the system is configured to automatically skip these songs in the playlist. The system can also analyze new media additions to determine any dynamic changes in the musical tastes of listeners.
As Claim 1 states, Apple is seeking to protect:
“A computer-readable medium having stored thereon computer-executable instructions causing a processor to: present, on a graphical user interface, a queue including a plurality of entries configured to represent a playback sequence for a plurality of media items, wherein each entry is associated with a media item and includes a queue status field, the queue status field indicating whether the media item is queued automatically or manually; receive a triggering event; purge the queue after receiving the triggering event, whereby a first entry associated with a first media item is deleted from the queue when the queue status field of the first entry indicates that the first media item is queued automatically; and output content from the queue by playing one of the plurality of media items in the queue on an output device in accordance with the playback sequence.”
It should be noted that that the above patent claim, which seeks to protect computer-readable medium (i.e., software), as well as claims of other patents and patent applications below, which protect “video processing methods” and “systems,” could be deemed patent ineligible and therefore invalid by the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, March 31, 2014, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International, and a decision is anticipated by the end of June 2014. As we’ve reported in our coverage of amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court pertaining to this case, if the court chooses to deem Alice Corporation’s patent claims invalid under Section 101 of U.S. Code Title 35, these and many thousands of other software patents would be essentially overturned.
Other Patent Applications
As one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer devices, Apple Inc. is heavily involved in improving software systems for the consumption of digital media, as we’ve seen in today’s featured patent application. Other Apple innovations involving digital media systems that we noticed today were focused primarily on storage management. For example, U.S. Patent Application No. 20140075583, entitled Management of Media Items, would protect in-home media storage systems that are better able to process digital rights management (DRM) protections on media. This system would make it easier for a home server to share a stored movie or music file with an external playback device without DRM protections blocking the file from being shared.
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140075314, filed under the title Content Compilation, describes a new style of graphic user interface for media players that better incorporates disparate media formats, like video, music and songs. Upgrades to the user interface for the iTunes Store could be protected for Apple with the filing of U.S. Patent Application 20140074964, titled Managing Digital Media Presented in Online Digital Media Store. This system would enable a web service that allows users to quickly update digital content for an album or artist while vetting those users to ensure they have the proper clearance to edit content.
We also took a look at one very interesting patent application that discusses a method of transmitting data for a microphone device partially through human tissue. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140072148, which is titled Bone-Conduction Pickup Transducer for Microphonic Applications, would protect a personal audio device with a microphone input that conducts voice data through bone and other tissues. This data could then be used by another device to complete digital audio processing functions, such as telephony commands. This writer had previously selected a similar patent application filed by AT&T as the most interesting innovation seen during 2013. The blurring of lines between human and machine will likely continue in the coming years with ever more complex personal electronic devices.
Issued Patents of Note
Apple is one of the corporations we’ve covered the most in our Companies We Follow series here at IPWatchdog. We’re always intrigued to learn about the new patents issued to any major technology manufacturer, especially one with so much strength in the growing consumer electronic devices industry. In our perusal of Apple’s recently issued patents, we’re seeing a continuation of many of the novel digital media systems described above, as well as some intriguing new hardware inventions.
Apple has been long renowned for its ability to provide consumers with access to digital media, and we’re noticing a glut of issued patents protecting more media system and storage improvements. For example, U.S. Patent No. 8677430, entitled Content Rental System, protects an online rental system for digital content. Users would be able to rent digital content instead of buying it, giving those users the ability to access that content for a finite amount of time.
Methods of providing sponsored content to electronic device users are protected by U.S. Patent No. 8671000, which is titled Method and Arrangement for Providing Content to Multimedia Devices. This system would allow ad sponsors to present digital media, like songs or videos, that a user may be interested in, increasing the chances that an ad will be seen. This patent was first applied for in April 2008, and since then has faced three non-final rejections and one final rejection before finally being issued on March 11 of this year. Customizing the notification material we receive from this digital content is the central focus of U.S. Patent No. 8676238, titled Managing Notification Messages. This system would allow users to set up a whitelist of apps which allows notifications, as well as an app blacklist which prevents notifications from those programs.
Apple has also received a few hardware patents lately that protect the manufacture of tangible items for use with their mobile devices and other computing products. For instance, U.S. Patent No. 8672126, issued under the title Foldable Case for Use With an Electronic Device, protects a case comprised of a pouch which a mobile device can sit in. The pouch is hinged to a cover element that allows a user to selectively protect the device’s display. Finally, we were intrigued by the new device packaging system outlined in U.S. Patent No. 8668519, titled Active Electronic Media Device Packaging. This new packaging method would provide power to a device and allow customers to interact with it prior to making a purchasing decision.