The US International Trade Commission (ITC) will investigate claims that Apple's iPod infringes a patent claimed by Creative Labs, the so-called 'Zen patent'.

The Commission will be investigating Apple's market-leading iPod in order to ascertain if the company has used patented technologies without a licence.

Apple's foe in the music player market, Creative Labs, claims its patent (US Patent Number 6,928,433) has been infringed within the user interface employed in iPods, iPod nanos and iPod minis.

Creative Labs filed its complaint on May 15, 2006. It claims Apple has violated section 337 of the US Tariff Act of 1930 by importing iPods into the US because it alleges the products violate the patent.

Creative wants the iPod to be hammered with a permanent order to prevent it being imported and sold in the US, and that Apple be forced to "case and desist" its manufacture of the products.

The launch of an investigation doesn't imply that any decision on the claims has been reached. It will be referred to ITC administrative law judge Paul Luckern, who will schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing in "approximately five to eight months," Creative said. A decision typically follows in 12-15 months, the company claimed.

This will not be the end of the story. Apple has launched several countersuits in opposition to Creative's claims, accusing the latter firm of infringing three patents: one for the display of data on a computer, another relating to editing data using a portable media device, and a third for the creation of icons to organise files on a computer.

Apple is suing for cash damages along with a court order forcing Creative from further breaches of its patents. Apple has also asked the ITC to block imports of Creative's music players on the grounds of the patent abuse.

Analysts have warned that Creative is unlikely to prevail in the case.

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