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British Man Invented Precursor to the iPod in 1979

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According to a Gizmodo post published on Sunday, a British man claims he invented the iPod (or at least a prototype of what would become a portable music player) way back in 1979, the same year the Walkman cassette player first went on sale in Japan. Up to that point, the idea of portable music was an over-sized boom box you carried on your shoulder.

That is, until Sony and a Brit by the name of Kane Kramer came along in 1979 and reduced the size substantially. Sony's device played cassette tapes, while Kramer's apparently had 3.5 minutes of memory. The Walkman became iconic in the 80s (not unlike the iPod is today), but sadly for Kramer, his device never took off (probably because he was so far ahead of his time) and he let the patent lapse nine years later when he ran out of funds.

The story would end there, except for the fact that a company called Burst sued Apple a couple of years ago over a patent infringement involving, at least marginally, the design of the iPod among other things. A Mac World article on the lawsuit settlement described the patents involved as follows: "Burst alleged that Apple infringed four patents for transmission of compressed audio and video files in iTunes, iLife, QuickTime and the iPod."

The suit was eventually settled for $10M last November, but not before Apple called Kramer to testify on its behalf. According to the Gizmodo piece, "Apple called Kramer so he could serve as a consultant for the trial, and so his patents and drawings could be used to settle the suit out of court." What I'm not clear about is how the fact Kramer invented a similar device back in the day could have anything to do with Burst's assertions about Apple since I really doubt whatever Kramer invented in 1979 had much to do with the esoteric transmission compression patents involved in the suit some 27+ years later.

What puzzles me further is why this story is surfacing at all, much less 10 months after the law suit was settled. Perhaps Kramer simply wanted his well-deserved 15 minutes. Regardless, Gizmodo's assertion in the title of the piece that his testimony is somehow proof that this guy invented the iPod is absurd. The portable music player was well established by other companies by the time the iPod came along. That they brought Kramer to testify in this law suit doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but neither does it prove this guy invented the iPod. It only offers further proof of the outlandish machinations that lawyers go through during lawsuits.

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