Apple Granted Design Patent on CoverFlow

Apr 08, 2010

Media player programs that bear a "substantially similar" appearance are subject to change

The United States Patent and Trade Office awarded Apple with a range of patents including their patents for the MacBook Air superdrive and video-encoding system used in iChat, all of which pretty standard. But the patent to take note in the open source community is a design patent for CoverFlow, the visual way users parse through music and video on the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad and in iTunes.

A design patent differs from a utility patent because it covers the appearance of an intellectual property, not how the property itself functions. In other words, any program that looks "substantially similar" to CoverFlow is eligible for legal action.

Programs and devices affected by the patent include Cover Flow, a similarly named (note the space) open source Flash script, MediaFlow, an add-on to Songbird and a variety of media players on mobile devices, such as the Motorola Droid, Nokia N900, Nokia Symbian^3, should Apple decide said interfaces are too similar.

CoverFlow was developed by Steel Skies and bought by Apple in 2006. As of this writing, Apple has not pursued legal action.

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  • Re:


    Under the design patent pretty much any interface that appears substantially similar to CoverFlow can be subject to a patent infringement claim, but filing a claim is up to Apple's discretion.
  • The other Apple OS applications

    One can use cover flow animations in any Apple OS application if he/she uses Cocoa. Indeed, Xcode has a widget for this purpose. Does this conflict with this new interesting patent?
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