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Apple Files Patent Application for Software DRM Controls

Apple Files Patent Application for Software DRM Controls

by , 1:35 PM EST, December 26th, 2007

Apple, Inc. has filed for a patent in the U.S. for a Digital Rights Management (DRM) system for controlling where software runs. The method described in the application is one that allows for the injection of code into an application's run-time instruction stream that checks to see if the application is being run on a "specific hardware platform," and then repeats that check to see if it is still being run on that authorized platform.

Should any of these checks fail, the software would become inoperable. The application also describes the method as being, "transparent to the user and difficult to circumvent."

On the one hand, this DRM system could be used to limit Apple software, say Mac OS X, to use only on Apple hardware -- note the "on a specific hardware platform" wording in the description. On the other hand, the system could also be used as something more restrictive like making sure that an application or operating system is properly licensed.

That's the take from InformationWeek, which compared the system to Microsoft's much-maligned Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), which checks to make sure that your copy of Windows isn't pirated. WGA has run into criticisms since before it was even launched with Windows XP, and Microsoft has since scaled back the kinds of checks WGA makes.

As patent application are intentionally vague, or at least intentionally as broad as the filing attorneys think they can get away with while still gaining specific patent protection, it's impossible to know how, or even if, Apple envisions using this DRM scheme.

While the company's pro apps such as Logic, Aperture, and Final Cut Studio do require license keys, Mac OS X itself has never required such a key. Any WGA-like DRM scheme for Mac OS X would be a major change in policy for the company. On the other hand, Apple has always gone to great lengths to keep Mac OS and Mac OS X strictly controlled in terms of what hardware can run the OS.

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