Apple is attempting to patent the user interface for its iPod. The application was filed at the US Patent and Trademarks Office in October 2002 but only published last week. The eighteen month lag is typical, as is Apple's desire to prevent a simple, clean and consistent design innovation from being copied badly.
It's remarkable only because the iPod had been on the market for a year when the patent was filed. But the USPTO has recently published two more interesting and related applications from Apple Computer. Both are related UI improvements which haven't made it into products yet.
Application No.20040046741 is for a mouse with an optical scroll area rather than a scroll wheel. Another, No. 20040021694 describes how an on-screen 'blob' can help with mouse navigation. The blob allows users to switch between scrolling and cursor modes, or as the application describes it, is "an improved scrolling technique that is ergonomic (e.g., allows the mouse to scroll through a window without holding down a button), that is available to all users regardless of the input device (e.g., does not need a dedicated button) and/or that provides visual stimulus indicating that scrolling is initiated is desired." Jaguar beta testers will remember a user interface element in the shape of a blue disc that - if we remember correctly - hid open windows, but this is quite different, and obviously much more sophisticated. "One advantage of the invention is that mode switching may be implemented using any mouse including a single button mouse. That is, the invention eliminates the need for a dedicated scroll button," concludes the second patent.
Although copyists have pilfered much from the Mac, often taking the words while forgetting the tune. Microsoft's Longhorn's UI borrows from Apple's ten year patent on 'Piles' by grouping related documents together; but we wouldn't want to bet on Microsoft actually releasing its version of Piles before Apple. ®