The recipient of all that loot is Creative Technology, makers of the Zen line of MP3 players. Creative filed papers against Apple earlier this year claiming the company infringed on patents involving the menu navigation system used on Apple’s most popular product – the iPod.

About the same time Creative launched legal proceedings against Apple, it also asked the International Trade Commission to investigate the matter. Since the iPod is pretty much an international device, and is made from parts from all over the world, a Creative-friendly decision by the ITC could have stopped Apple from importing the player into the United States.

“The ITC presents a uniquely fast and threatening forum,” said Stefani Shanberg, a partner and patent litigator with Perkins Coie LLP. “The ITC’s decision would have come down before any district court decision, and that was probably a motivating factor in getting the settlement done quickly. Both companies had a pretty quick day of reckoning coming.”

But all those legal possibilities vanished when Apple and Creative reached an agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, Apple can recoup some of the payment if Creative licenses the same technology to other companies.

“Creative is very fortunate to have been granted this early patent,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement announcing the settlement. “This settlement resolves all of our differences with Creative, including the five lawsuits currently pending between the companies, and removes the uncertainty and distraction of prolonged litigation.”

While $100 million may seem like a lot to mere mortals, one patent attorney described the one-time payment as “nickels and dimes” for Apple.

“A settlement doesn’t mean anyone’s right or wrong,” said patent attorney and engineer Michael Kroll. “You do what’s best at the time. I’m sure that’s what Apple was thinking.”

Creative Chairman and CEO Sim Wong Hoo called the settlement “amicable.”