Apple has patented the OS X Dock, nearly a decade after the operating system made its public debut with a new slant on the taskbar.
The late arrival isn't due to a lack of initiative, however. Apple applied for the patent December 20, 1999, and it was approved by the US Patent Office only yesterday.
Apple summarizes the Dock as a "user interface for providing consolidation and access." The patent (available here) puts a particular focus on the Dock's ability to magnify icons to a predetermined size when the cursor is near, the user's ability to rearrange icons, and the way it overlaps the desktop and active windows. Other touches such as indicating which applications are running, label tiles appearing on mouse-over, and the ability to drag and drop files into applications on the Dock are also described.
The patent credits inventors Steve Jobs, Bas Ording, and Donald Lindsay.
Apple has regarded the Dock as the focus of OS X's user interface from the beginning. There can be little doubt Cupertino is happy to have its hands on the legal rights.
The big question here is: What's next?
Historically, Apple hasn't exactly been shy about pursuing legal action against those it considers infringing on its patent portfolio. This could be bad news for imitators such as ObjectDock, RocketDock, Avant Windows Navigator, and others.
An Apple spokesperson wasn't immediately available for comment. We'll just have to put our ears to the ground and listen for war drums sounding from Cupertino. ®