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Creative Says Apple Trade Probe Underway

Ah, the intimacies of patent litigation! It’s really the little things, the love-pats, the tit-for-tats, that make it all worthwhile.

Today Creative Technology announced that the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has opened an investigation into Apple Computer’s iPod business, on the basis of Creative’s complaint that Apple’s iPods violate the company’s “Zen” patent on interfaces for portable digital music players.

Creative has asked the ITC to issue a permanent exclusion order and a permanent cease and desist order, prohibiting Apple from importing allegedly infringing iPod music players into the U.S. for sale. If granted, such an injunction would be a severe blow to Apple’s runaway iPod business.

The case will be heard by administrative judge Paul Luckern, who is expected to hold hearings at the end of 2006 or in early 2007, then make an initial determination whether Creative’s patent has been violated. The ITC typically takes between 12 and 15 months to issue an initial ruling once an investigation gets started.

In the meantime, Creative is feeling some Apple-love of its own: the Cupertino company has filed two patent infringement lawsuits of its own, alleging Creative products violate a collection of Apple technology patents. Those suits are also pending.

Unless the companies settle, industry watchers expect this case could drag on for years: patent battles are notoriously sticky and slow-moving.

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