Software Patent of the Week: The Backwards Play Button

by on September 2, 2006 · 10 comments

Every week, I look at a software patent that’s been in the news. You can see previous installments in the series here. This week’s patent comes courtesy of Techdirt, who reports that Apple has settled a lawsuit with the owner of this patent. Here’s the abstract:

A computer system and method for controlling a media playing device. The system provides a user interface for allowing a user access to media pieces stored in a media database. The interface is also for controlling a media playing device, like a player piano or movie playing video device, that is coupled to the computer to play the accessed or selected piece of media. In one embodiment there is a computer interface that allows a user to display only music that relates to a selected category, like jazz or classical music. Another embodiment allows the user to direct the media playing device to automatically play selected music pieces that are related to a selected music category. Another embodiment allows a user to direct the media playing device to automatically play selected music pieces that are related to the selected music composer or artist.

I think the obviousness of this patent can be readily seen from a selection of the description of the “invention”:

Further regarding FIGS. 2, 3, 4, and 6, are four media playing device control buttons illustrated on the bottom right side of the interface screen. The operation of each button works much like a typical tape recorder. The first button on the left is typically known to one skilled in the art as the “play” button. This play button is shaped as an arrow pointing to the left. When the play button is actuated, the player piano will begin to play the first selected music piece as indicated in the Selected Songs data field.

The second from the left button, called the rewind button, will cause the selected item, the song “All I Ask of You,” to stop playing and “rewind” the music selection. The rewind button is an arrow pointing to the right. By rewind, it is meant to cause the music to stop at the current frame, lets say frame 80 of the music piece, and move back a given number of music frames and potentially all the way back to the beginning. As with a tape recorder, the amount of time that the rewind button is actuated will control how far back in the music the user wants to restart the player piano.

The next button is typically known as the “pause” button. The pause button is indicated by two vertical lines. This button allows the user to temporarily suspend the playing of the player piano. Upon activating the pause button again or by reactuation of the play button, the player piano will start playing at the exact spot that it had been stopped.

The last button on the right is typically recognized as the “stop” button. The stop button is indicated by a square shape. This button is used when the user is finished listening to the selected piece of music and is no longer interest in listening any further. To restart the player piano another music piece is generally selected from the music data fields and the start button is then reactivated.

Sure, this interface has been on tape recorders for decades. But if you show the buttons on a computer screen, why that’s a groundbreaking invention!

The most entertaining thing, though, is that the play and rewind buttons appear to be backwards. On all the media devices I’ve ever seen, the play button faces right and the rewind button faces left. But I guess the really innovative devices do it the other way around.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    How amazingly original. All that one would probably have to do with an API like JavaSound would be to read a block, reverse the order and then send it to the output stream/mixer while in a loop that reads the stream in reverse.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    How amazingly original. All that one would probably have to do with an API like JavaSound would be to read a block, reverse the order and then send it to the output stream/mixer while in a loop that reads the stream in reverse.

  • Brian Moore

    That’s just ridiculous. Does the patent office record which patent examiners approve each patent? I think our first step in this fight should be to find out who they are, post their names on a website, and then place a short description of the patent they approved next to a device/item that demonstrably proves it’s non-originality.

  • Brian Moore

    ah ha!! There is! For this patent:

    Primary Examiner: Black; Thomas G.
    Assistant Examiner: Rones; Charles L.
    Attorney, Agent or Firm: Starkweather; Michael W. Starkweather; Valerie L.

    Some google research… leads me to:

    Patents By Thomas G. Black

    Looking at the wide range of things he’s approved patents on, I can’t even guess at his specialty. I see aeronautics, networking information, logistics, communications networks, mechanical engineering, robot sensors, biomedical tech… how on earth can this guy be qualified to determine the originality of inventions in so many fields? It’s impossible.

    The patent system, even if we accept it as good and necessary, is so crazily messed up I don’t think it’s possible to sort it out.

  • Brian Moore

    Whoa. I’ve been tracking the patent examiner names and certain individuals are definitely responsible for many, many, contentious software patents. I’ll continue to search.

  • Brian Moore

    That’s just ridiculous. Does the patent office record which patent examiners approve each patent? I think our first step in this fight should be to find out who they are, post their names on a website, and then place a short description of the patent they approved next to a device/item that demonstrably proves it’s non-originality.

  • Brian Moore

    ah ha!! There is! For this patent:

    Primary Examiner: Black; Thomas G.
    Assistant Examiner: Rones; Charles L.
    Attorney, Agent or Firm: Starkweather; Michael W. Starkweather; Valerie L.

    Some google research… leads me to:

    Patents By Thomas G. Black

    Looking at the wide range of things he’s approved patents on, I can’t even guess at his specialty. I see aeronautics, networking information, logistics, communications networks, mechanical engineering, robot sensors, biomedical tech… how on earth can this guy be qualified to determine the originality of inventions in so many fields? It’s impossible.

    The patent system, even if we accept it as good and necessary, is so crazily messed up I don’t think it’s possible to sort it out.

  • Brian Moore

    Whoa. I’ve been tracking the patent examiner names and certain individuals are definitely responsible for many, many, contentious software patents. I’ll continue to search.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Whoa. I’ve been tracking the patent examiner names and certain individuals are definitely responsible for many, many, contentious software patents. I’ll continue to search.

    I had asked a cousin of my wife’s about this phenomena (he is a patent examiner in Munich for the European Union) and he had indicated that Patent Examiners are typically assigned to very narrow sets or types of Patents.

    He, for example reviews certain types of Business Method Patents, and onlt those patents. If a Patent for a new bicycle brake, for example, came through the office he would never be assigned to review it.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Whoa. I’ve been tracking the patent examiner names and certain individuals are definitely responsible for many, many, contentious software patents. I’ll continue to search.

    I had asked a cousin of my wife’s about this phenomena (he is a patent examiner in Munich for the European Union) and he had indicated that Patent Examiners are typically assigned to very narrow sets or types of Patents.

    He, for example reviews certain types of Business Method Patents, and onlt those patents. If a Patent for a new bicycle brake, for example, came through the office he would never be assigned to review it.

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