Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kane Kramer's media player: the iPod

Apple has revealed the source of the original design for the iPod - in the course of defending itself against a patent claim from elsewhere.

Apple certainly doesn't come out of it untarnished. But the original designer gets some kudos, albeit very belated.

Englishman Kane Kramer designed a media player that he patented worldwide - in 1979. He bills it as the first MP3 player. In fact, MP3 as a format hadn't been developed yet, but it was the first digital media player nevertheless.

The problem with Kramer's vision was that the technology wasn't advanced enough at the time - the player was only good for three and a half minutes of music. Nevertheless, for some time he attempted to market it to investors. But the patent lapsed in 1988 (reports vary as to whether it was due to business disruptions or inability to raise the finances to renew).

And Kramer's design, which you can see on his website, is startlingly similar to what became the iPod. His work was obviously lifted holus bolus by Apple. He was understandably dishearted to see no credit coming to him; more recently, he was struggling in a furniture design business, which he had to close down.

Meanwhile, a US company called Burst, which apparently makes a living by vaccuuming up the patents of others and suing, sued Apple. In defence, Apple contacted Kramer - who was up a ladder at the time - to help them defend.

Apple paid Kramer to go to California, where the matter between Burst and Apple was subsequently settled out of court. Kramer is currently negotiating with Apple to receive some compensation for the (out of patent) use of his designs.

Concurrent with the outline for his media player, Kramer had also described his vision for services for downloading music over the telephone line. He is still involved in industrial design; it's reasonable to expect the publicity is now doing him good.

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