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Creative rises from the dead to try and destroy Android

Published May 10th, 2016 3:05PM EDT
Creative Android Complaint
Image: Tarun Kumar

Do you remember Creative? In the early 2000s, the company had a brief period of being cool, as its Zen MP3 players were the anti-establishment alternative to the iPod. These days, the Singapore-based company mostly makes gaming headsets and computer speakers — nothing to do with smartphones, in other words. But thanks to a complaint filed against every big Android phone manufacturer, Creative has quietly declared war on Android.

The complaint is filed against a who’s-who of Android smartphones: Samsung, LG, HTC, BlackBerry, Sony, ZTE, Lenovo and Motorola. The issue at hand is music players: all the phones have ’em, and Creative has a patent it thinks is being infringed on. Specifically, all the phones are capable of “playing stored media files selected by a user from a hierarchical display.”

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I know what you’re thinking — this is the same sort of rounded-corners stuff that Apple and Samsung have been fighting about for years. And to an extent, that’s true! A “hierarchical display” that lets you select stored music files is a description that fits any music player more sophisticated than a radio — heck, you could argue that Sony’s first CD player did something similar. But before you write off this entire complaint as classic patent trolling, it’s worth remembering that Creative was once a force in music electronics, and it has a right, just like any other company, to protect its intellectual property.

The complaint was filed with the International Trade Commission, which seems to think (at least provisionally) that Creative has some kind of case. It’s opening an investigation into Creative’s complaint, which could potentially have serious repercussions for the Android manufacturers named. In the past, the ITC has banned Samsung phones from the US after it found them to infringe on patents. In this case, an import ban isn’t likely — Creative is probably after a royalty fee, which would see manufacturers pay a small amount to the company for every smartphone sold. That could tide a slowly failing company well into retirement, and all because it patented the idea of a list.