Has Apple Filed A Patent For Microsoft's Surface Smart Cover?

While the underlying technology that makes Touch Cover work is said to have been used in a much earlier MS keyboard and mouse, its innovation into the Surface's novel smart cover is evidently much more recent--and the design of the Touch Cover quite definitely is.

AppleInsider notes the U.S. Patent Office just revealed a patent application, number 13/208235 originally filed back on the 11th of August 2011, which may prove to be very controversial. It was filed by Apple and it covers a number of technological improvements to the iPad smart cover, such as a display that would be connected to the tablet via a set of contacts embedded in its clever magnetic hinge. One of the uses of this tech, Apple imagines, is to have an ultra-thin touch keyboard on the cover, and possibly to allow it to be used as a giant touch-sensitive trackpad, complete with stylus for accurate drawing.

Sound familiar? It's more or less exactly what Microsoft calls its Touch Cover, revealed alongside its Surface tablet, given almost as much limelight, and used to infer how much of a productivity tool the Surface will be for business users.

Here's the Touch Cover:

And here's the relevant image from Apple's patent application:

While the underlying technology that makes Touch Cover work is said to have been used in a much earlier MS keyboard and mouse, its innovation into the Surface's novel smart cover is evidently much more recent--and the design of the Touch Cover quite definitely is.

Which raises a very difficult question: What will happen if Apple, which can prove it came up with this idea some time ago, actually wins this patent? The question touches right at the heart of the problems surrounding the current patent model, and the issue of what constitutes technological innovation--both of which matters are threaded through the high-profile Samsung vs. Apple lawsuit that's currently underway.

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12 Comments

  • shenzhen2112

    Apple doesn't sue Microsoft because Apple exists because of Microsoft. MS still holds a 10% stake in Apple, and they have broad cross-licensing arrangements. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

  • Gprovida

    The thing to keep in mind is MS did not rip off a shipping product like SAMSUNG and Android in general.  Therefore, I do not think Apple will get as revved up as it currently is with Android and SAMSUNG.  Also, MS and Apple have some existing albeit bounded IP agreements between them.  

    My guess is Apple will not sue MS over this patent unless a future Apple product had substantial capabilities in this area before MS revealed them.  Or to protect themselves against a suit by MS regarding some cover technologies it might reveal.

    Also, it is my bet that MS has patents [not yet revealed] related to this that overlap with Apple.  

    Pretty much all of Apple's suits have been about shipping products that have been copied e.g., Windows95 and SAMSUNG Galaxy.

  • John

    Yeah, because protecting your intellectual property from slavish and shameless infringement is 'evil'. Apple is still the same Apple is always was, in terms of fundamentals. They have every right to protect their IP. 

  • Jim H

    All companies are out to make a profit. Anyone who thinks a company that is in business for profit is either evil or good is a moron.

  • John

    Yeah, a computer/gadget company is 'pure evil', to be compared with a genocidal maniac. Who is 'pure evil' at Apple? The executives? CEO? Programmers? Designers? Mailmen? Apple store employees? Or do they transform into satan when combined into a unified entity?

    Get out of your basement, stop custom screwing your Android phone and bashing Apple on messageboards, and get some fresh air. 

  • Daniel Reid

    Nothing happens. Microsoft and Apple have a broad cross-licensing agreement. Ergo, no suing. They just use each others ideas in their own products.

  • Johnwilson1

    Do you know the definition of patent trolling? Because your statement implies you don't. Patent trolling is a term reserved for organizations that purchase patents with no intent to use them and every intention to sue anyone remotely infringing as to make as much money as possible. Does that sound like Apple? More to the point, would Apple create a very popular Smart Cover (for their own product no less) that already grosses $1 billion a year, then improve upon it for the sole purpose of suing Microsoft (before Microsoft even intimated they would be making one)? No. So who's really trolling? You.