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Apple Trying To Patent Not Letting You Use Your Nike+iPod With Non-Nike Shoes

from the this-raises-some-questions dept

I know plenty of folks (including my wife) who have purchased the Nike+iPod device to use with non-Nike sneakers. The device puts a sensor in your shoe, which communicates with a separate dongle connected to your iPod (or built in to the new iPod Touch), and tracks your running stats, which you can then upload. Many Nike sneakers have a little cutout underneath the insoles where you can stick the sensor, but you can buy (or make) a little pouch and connect it to shoelaces on non-Nike shoes. However, not only is Apple thinking about ways to stop this -- it's trying to patent those ways. It's got a patent application in for smart garments which would create basically a DRM for devices -- forceably pairing a device like the Nike+iPod sensor to a specific shoe.

This seems odd for a whole variety of reasons. First, it seems positively silly for Apple to do this, as it severely limits the market for the devices, and lessens the value of the iPod. You can see why Nike might ask for it, but it's hard to see why Apple would implement it. Second, however, is that this seems highly questionable as a patent. I mean why would you patent something that makes your product less desirable? Would Apple actually sue someone else (say, Microsoft) for doing the same thing? That would (oh no!) force Microsoft to make its product more useful and more valuable. Finally, as a patent, how is this not "obvious"? It seems like a bad idea to implement, but that doesn't make it non-obvious. If any engineer wanted to create such a system, it wouldn't take much thought at all. The whole thing seems rather pointless.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    John Duncan Yoyo, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:05am

    It would be stupid to limit this Gizmo to a certain brand of shoes. I is also stupid to limit it to one segment of the line. It needs to work with my 80gb classic as well as a nano.

     

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  2.  
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    XS, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:07am

    I think this is probably more of a self-preservation technique meant to prevent some other company getting a patent on this and lock out iPod on other brand of garments. Also, this would probably give Apple a lot of pull in garment industry where they can choose to license the patent to producers that conform to their demands. Or are we really going to see iRan brand of shoes?

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:14am

    I don't think it's limited to one model so you buy it, it's limited to models that are solid state. Apple had issues developing a way to contstantly write data to non solid-state media, IE: the classic, and keep the system stable.

     

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  4.  
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    hegemon13, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:26am

    Dumb move

    "You can see why Nike might ask for it..."

    No, I can't actually. Presumably, Nike makes money off every sensor sold. People aren't going to switch shoes to match the sensor. They will happily buy a different fitness product to match their preferred shoes. Making the product less valuable in the market is a dumb move, even for Nike. What they have done now is already the best option: create shoes that are already the "best" for the sensor by having the pocket built-in, but allow anyone to buy it. There are plenty of pedometers out there, and though having it connect to an iPod is convenient, it is not convenient enough to convince someone to wear shoes that don't fit right.

     

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  5.  
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    Jonathan Lang, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:28am

    Something worth considering.....

    I think something you guys don't consider is that many companies such as Apple may get patents on new ideas they are considering using no so much so that they can sue someone else if they use it, but so that someone else can't see that they are doing it, get a patent on it themselves, and then sue the company for using the idea. Last I checked having a previous patent usually prevents or invalidates any future patents on the same concept, doesn't it?

     

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  6.  
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    Just One Thought, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:39am

    I think this is more a case of... We need more patents. Having more patents looks good to investors. So what could they possibly patent today? Here's one idea, although not very good, but they just might be able to push it through.

     

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  7.  
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    mobiGeek, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:41am

    Re: Dumb move

    Your reasoning is sound, but in the world of business many MBA-types view anything that gives an inch to competition to be absolutely avoided at all costs.

    Those folks also tend to be blind supporters of other business restriction mechanisms...

     

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  8.  
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    mobiGeek, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:42am

    Re: Something worth considering.....

    Cool, so the patent system is working just as intended!

    Not.

     

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  9.  
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    Neverhood, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:48am

    it doesnt matter

    It doesnt matter if the patents are good or bad... As long as they can say to someone, "You dont want to get into a patent war with us, we have xx times more patents than you".

     

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  10.  
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    Dave, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:48am

    Why are you surprised?

    Apple has made their money tying devices and software together.

    They always link their things together, OS and computer, Ipod and Itunes. this is just one more way to do it and getting money from a running shoe manufacturer as a benefit.

     

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  11.  
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    ehrichweiss, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 8:48am

    Why?

    This seems so pointless on every level: Apple's, Nike's, the consumer's.

    Just say kNOw

     

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  12.  
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    kurt, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:14am

    Not odd at all

    You have been following apple for years. You can NOT be surprised by this. Apple keeps everything as closed as possible. That is how their business model works. You can't buy apple computer or ipod licensed clones. You can not legally play purchased music from iTunes elsewhere. DRM on iTunes. Approval of iPhone apps before release. Recall of disliked iPhone applications. Too many more examples to mention.

    The funny thing is, Apple will make even more money as the apple faithful will just buy Nikes. Fanboys will buy, and apologists will defend, Jobs will laugh all the way to the bank.

     

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  13.  
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    Twinrova, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:21am

    My twelve cents (inflation)

    "The whole thing seems rather pointless."

    What isn't pointless anymore?

    Every day, Corporate America continues to bed each other in hopes consumers are too stupid to catch on what's going on while overcharging them for the simplest of products.

    And to think the entire point of advertising is to reduce the cost of the good, not increase it.

    I'm expecting legislation to start to begin limiting how companies can advertise.

    This is getting beyond frustrating.

     

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  14.  
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    Erik, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:23am

    Nike = Sweatshop

    I will never buy Nike again after learning about their manufacturing processes. I buy New Balance shoes, they fit me better and are mostly made in the USA. Apple is shooting themselves in the foot by limiting this cool tech to Nike. I would guess that much of the push is coming from Nike to protect their special arrangement with Apple. At least, I'd hope so.

     

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  15.  
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    iJay, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:27am

    Not so bad

    Consider the following:
    a. Nike+ is definitely not a profit-oriented branch of Nike. It is actually a huge marketing machine for sneakers. Nike definitely does not earn a lot of money by selling the sensor pairs, and has running costs on the web site.
    b. Apple does profit from every Nike+ pair sold, since w/o iPod, it simply will not work. Being the tech-savvy partner of the two, Apple is the one who is able to ensure the connection ipod-Nike is solid and does not get sucked up by other shoe manufacturers.
    c. Given that Apple has to develop a system to authorize accessories, why shouldn't they at least try to patent it, obviousity aside? Apple has to pay a licence fee for their "visual voicemail" feature, so it would be bordering on misconduct not to patent every single idea that is deemed interesting by more than 2 Apple Engineers. Not only can they pull in licensing fees from every company that tries the same, it can also add a patent imfringement lawsuit to everyone who tries to circumvent the mechanism it implements.

    That said, from a consumer standpoint, this is totally useless. If I'd be a runner, I'd rather pay 20 bucks/y. for something like World of Joggercraft, where I can upload my running data from any shoe I like. But I don't see anyone offering the ease-of-use, reliability and market strength on the horizon. In fact, I don't see any competition at all.

     

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  16.  
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    Matt, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:29am

    Indian Giver's

    Why is it that you never feel like you own an Apple product; you only feel like they are letting you borrow it?

     

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  17.  
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    wasnt me!, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:33am

    just apple doing what is does best "locking down on its product"

    they just don't know how to do something else.

     

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  18.  
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    some old guy, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:45am

    I run alot

    I run alot (5-10 miles a day), and while I don't use it every day, I do like my nike+ thingy on my ipod. It's especially helpful for someone like me, who can't pace himself.

    That said, I have one of those lace pouches. I've already gone through three pairs of running shoes since I got it. Each time I got new shoes, I actually looked for a nike+ shoe. All the ones I could find, were absurdly overpriced. I always wound up buying nike shoes, they fit me well, and I can find them cheap.

    So Nike is getting my money. Apple is getting my money. So.. exactly what is this patent supposed to do for either of them? Convince a competitor to create a similar product that's not stupidly encumbered? Alright! bring on more competition.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:53am

    Re:

    Don't know about the iRan
    I might buy the iRak groin protector though.

     

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  20.  
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    Olternaut, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 9:55am

    Re: Not so bad..........PLEASE! *rollseyes*

    Any competition at all? *sigh* The nike+ stuff is cute but...call me when Apple decides to get serious about tracking data from runners. Until then, if your interested in some REAL data tools for SERIOUS runners then head on over to polarusa. Suunto is also looking good. Looking at how Steve Jobs presents his nike+ products its obvious that he hasn't ran more than a mile in his life.

    Lemme see Steveo try to market that crap to Michellie Jones or Ryan Hall. Oh, it would be wonderful if I didn't have to use a seperate mp3 player with a heart rate monitor/pace tracking plus watch set of devices. A totally unified system that played music, tracked my heart rate and pace plus had an intelligently designed software package that simplifies the data analysis process and gives you the bottomline how your training is progressing would be ideal. And with Apple's software know how that would be simple for them to do.
    But unfortunately, Steve does not seem to be able to make that mental connection.
    Again, when Steve wakes up about it and decides to get serious....call me.

     

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  21.  
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    nasch, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 10:21am

    Re: Dumb move

    I'm not sure about that, it seems like there might be a lot of people would be happy to switch shoes if it meant they would be compatible with their iPod. After all, a lot of shoes are cheaper than a lot of iPods, and as we all know, the iPods are just so... cool.

     

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  22.  
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    Keith, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 10:42am

    itunes

    This seems like a backward move for Apple. I remember circa 2002 that Apple only had a version of iTunes that worked on Mac OS. This limited sales of the iPod to Mac users. When they made a version of itunes for the PC this spurred new growth in sales of the ipod to pc users. They seem to want to do the opposite for a product they don't even make. Does Apple really need Nike in order for this product work? Seeing as Nike's name is on the product allowing it to work with anyone's shoes would be a boon for them as well.

    Making this product only work with Nike shoes is the equivalent of making your Nike shoes fail if your not wearing a Nike shirt,head band and shorts. (oops maybe I gave them an idea).

     

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  23.  
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    casey, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 10:51am

    It's all moot

    I've tried Nike+Ipod. The pedometer is inaccurate over moderate-to-long distances (a few miles or more), and the Nike shoes gave me horrible blisters.

    Even the shoe salesman said that Nike is, er--let's say, not the leader in making running shoes.

    If they were to market a GPS Nike/iPod device, then I would definitely buy one. Of course, I would probably adapt it to fit in my New Balances, but that's just me...

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Boost, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re: Dumb move

    Clearly spoken by someone who has never set foot in a pair of running shoes and went for a run longer than the distance to the couch. Nike shoes do not, I repeat, DO NOT fit everyone well. Some people's feet fit best in New Balance, some in Addidas, etc. If you go out for more than a couple hundred yards of a run, you're going to notice pretty soon if your brand new Nike-Irun equiped shoes are not going to make your running experience enjoyable...or even barable. Ask any running expert and they'll tell you the biggest cause of injury in runners is shoes that do not fit correctly.

     

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  25.  
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    PAtient Whore, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

    Oh no Apple won't!

    I've already patented the idea of patenting ideas that make your product less desireable! Apple will be hearing from my attorneys.

     

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  26.  
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    Olternaut, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Dumb move...EXACTLY!

    If Steve were to start training for a half marathon then and only then would he suddenly realize "omg I've been ignorant about this!". THEN you would see Apple come out with some serious training gear.
    Oh how I wished Apple would wake up about this because I know if they would only put their mind to it they could create some INCREDIBLE training equipment that merged with their music products.

     

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  27.  
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    300baud, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 1:45pm

    What are you, some kind of noob? This generation of the information economy is all about making things INaccessible. You don't make money by providing services and information, you make money by making sure people can't get those things anywhere else. It's all about gatekeeping, control and suppression.

     

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  28.  
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    inc, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 3:10pm

    I would hope that Apple is trying to prevent some other company from using such DRM against them. They should have learned something from selling DRM free music.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    microwave your clothes, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    You better tell me first

    So - I purchase a shirt which, unknown to me at the time, contains an RFID chip. Will it become a felony to remove said chip ?????

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Sos, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 6:56pm

    Other uses

    The patent might actually have some other potentially valuable uses - like ensuring employees are wearing the correct safety gear or protective clothing before using machinery or entering a specific zone

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    JK, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 7:19pm

    Anticompetitive by definition

    It is bad enough when a company works to tie a product to a particular service and keep out competition, e.g. iPod and iTunes. However, doing something to tie one product to another and prevent compatibility is well established as improper anticompetitve behavior. You can't sell a car than was designed not to start unless it is wearing Goodyear tires (nevermind that it would be silly to do so), or if the oil isn't changed at the selling dealer. It has been confirmed in court that you can't use DRM and DMCA threats to keep a company from making ink or toner that works in a given brand of printer. So why should anyone be granted a patent on a way to make a product only work in proximity to a Nike shoe when the only reason to do so is to create an illegal tying arrangement?

     

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  32.  
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    hegemon13, Sep 16th, 2008 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: Dumb move

    Or, they could view it as piggybacking their product on the competition, so that they can profit even when someone buys Reeboks. I know what you are saying, and I am sure that is the mentality behind this patent. What I am saying is that I don't understand the mentality.

     

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