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.