Getting Creative with the patent system

In a lottery-like windfall settlement that likely has the champagne flowing at Creative Labs’ headquarters, the compay has just gotten a cheque from Apple for $100-million (U.S.), thanks to a patent on the navigation system used in the Creative Zen players and — as it turns out — the ridiculously successful Apple iPod (and just about every other MP3 music player out there, including my second-hand Dell DJ). As usual, Steve Jobs summed it up best, by saying: “Creative is very fortunate to have been granted this early patent.” I’ll say. Staci over at PaidContent quite rightly calls this comment a candidate for understatement of the year.

It is kind of ironic — as I think one commenter at the unofficial Apple weblog mentioned — that a company whose name is Creative has resorted to suing its much more successful competitor rather than trying to outperform Apple on features, but the patent system is the patent system (broken or not), and Creative beat Apple to the punch by several months in filing the Zen patent. At one point, Apple asked the company for help with what would become the iPod, but they couldn’t agree on terms. Would it have been better for Creative to have been partners rather than adversaries? Who can say. At any rate, $100-million makes up for a lot of mistakes.

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