Apple recently won a patent they filed over eight years ago, and it involves everything that has to do with how their iTunes Store works, which back then, was pretty much just a music store. Back in 2004 when Napster had already disrupted the way we listen to music we didn’t buy and choices to buy music were limited to small options like mp3.com, music companies were desperate, and in a way so were we. The iTunes Store became an instant hit since you were no longer limited to being lucky enough to find a popular CD that could easily sell out at a store, and the whole idea of being able to preview and buy any song that wasn’t published as a single simply changed the way music companies did business.
Almost a decade later, what started with the iTunes Store is what other companies like Microsoft offer with the Zune Store or Google with their Play Store. Many have begun speculating as to what this patent win may represent for competitors, since we all know how much of a patent troll Apple can be. Amazon had a hard time wining their right to call their App Store what it literally is, so this could mean more complications for competition. Now, the patent is full of text, procedures and details, so before you burn your eyebrows trying to see if it’s still worth buying music from your current, non-Apple source, we already read it for you. We’re in no way patent experts, but here’s what we think is important:
It’s all about the desktop app
Back in 2004 there was no such thing as YouTube, HTML5 or any way that browsers could be powerful enough to allow you to do what Apple envisioned with the iTunes Store. Streaming music or video required more power so their model was to patent an application capable of doing everything that you already know it can do. Instead of focusing on a service that enables music purchasing, ironically the patent focused on the iTunes application that still exists, and back then it focused on audio, video or image data.
Services offered by companies like Google or Amazon are probably safe. I’m no lawyer to ensure that they won’t be attacked, but since their stores are all exclusive to browsers and not application clients, their business models could prove to be different to what Apple originally patented back when browsers couldn’t do what they do now.
Microsoft’s Zune Software however is a different story. Just a week after Apple won this patent, we noticed that Microsoft pulled your ability to purchase apps from the Zune desktop client. Apple’s original patent doesn’t cover apps, so this could just be an internal decision that didn’t have anything to do with the patent, but the timing in which Microsoft made their changes could spell prevention. Eitherway, any lawsuit between them is all we’ll need to confirm it as prevention measures or not.
Lots of things are no longer relevant
Apple’s biggest selling point for the patent behind the creation of iTunes was copyright protection. DRM protected songs were quite the need back in 2004, but even that project stopped being necessary for Apple just four years later as customers found that a dollar was a reasonable price to buy your favorite song. Today, services like iTunes Match will even legalize any shady MP3 you may have gotten years ago as long as the iTunes store sells it, and it most likely does.
Today it’s all about the apps, the movies, the rentals and even the books. With competitors selling all of their services either on mobile devices or browsers, this patent shouldn’t be a threat, at least for now.
Broad grips are the risk
The only problem with Apple’s patents is how unspecific they are. I bet lots of you are already considering the fact that even a browser is an application that functions as a client, and it enables the consumption of content. If seen this way, then no online music store is safe. I wish I could say that this is not a probability, but sadly Apple has proven they can’t be trusted with awarded patents.
Tim Cook has shown himself as a CEO that prefers to avoid litigation, but it’s too soon to judge a book by its cover. The only way variety will be safe, is if companies like Google, who constantly push the open-source mentality, innovate with the next disruption of content consumption. Sadly, the only thing Google hasn’t acted-on with a “me too” solution is search, and that was almost two decades ago.
Our advice to you: Back-up! Keep an extra copy of what you’ve purchased anywhere. You never know what could happen going forward.