Controversy Over Apple Travel Patent Application

A bit of controversy has arisen over a patent application filed by Apple in December 2009 that was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week. The patent application describes an integrated travel application for the iPhone offering users the ability to access a host of travel services, from airline bookings and check-ins to information on airport shops and social networking.

100144 where to patent application
Where To? screenshot (left) and drawing from Apple patent application (right)

The controversy, which appears to have first been noticed and publicized by Rogue Amoeba developer Dan Wineman, involves a figure in the patent application showing a screen image that is essentially a direct copy of the interface found in the third-party application Where To?. While Apple's patent application was filed in December 2009 and claims association with a provisional patent application filed in January of that year, Where To? initially went live in July 2008 in the first wave of App Store apps. Where To?, initially developed by tap tap tap, was subsequently sold to FutureTap in late 2008.

While there were some initial questions over whether Apple was trying patent the inventions of third-party developers, an examination of the patent application reveals that Apple's ideas appear to be rather different that those utilized in Where To?, which is a GPS-based application for finding nearby businesses and other points of interest. Apple's application is focused on travel services, and while it can utilize GPS for positioning purposes, it is certainly not the main function of the application.

Consequently, it appears that Apple's designers and patent staff simply used the Where To? screenshot as an example of an interface a user might find when entering an airport, without claiming any invention of the interface's design itself or even the functionality behind it. But even if Apple is simply using the Where To? screenshot as an illustrative example to help describe a different technology, the move is not sitting well with the application's current developers.

At first, we couldn't believe what we saw and felt it can't be true that someone else is filing a patent including a 1:1 copy of our start screen. Things would be way easier of course if that "someone else" would be really an exterior "someone else". Unfortunately, that's not the case.

We're faced with a situation where we've to fear that our primary business partner is trying to "steal" our idea and design.

In an update to the post, FutureTap's Ortwin Gentz notes that he is not yet convinced that Apple isn't essentially describing his application's functionality in its patent application, but that even if it does not, the company's behavior still raises some questions. As one commenter notes, Apple's actions just don't feel right and leave the situation open to incorrect speculation and information.

The real problem, as I see it, is that no one thought to approach FutureTap, and let them know that they'd be doing so. I deal with patent applications a lot at work because they're often used as evidence in trials that I work on, and there's no way around the fact that they're hard to decipher. Bloggers are bound to read a lot into this, and a lot of the speculation is going to be based on a lack of information.

That's Apple's fault.

FutureTap notes that it became aware of the issue immediately after the patent application appeared last week, but that it held off from making a public statement as it attempted to contact Apple for clarification. With the issue being noticed by others and still no response from Apple, FutureTap is left to discuss its questions in public.

Top Stories

m1x mac mini screen feature

High-End 'M1X' Mac Mini With New Design and Additional Ports Expected to Launch in the 'Next Several Months'

Sunday August 22, 2021 5:59 am PDT by
Apple can be expected to launch an updated high-end Mac mini with a new design and a faster "M1X" Apple silicon processor in the "next several months," Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports. In the latest publication of his Power On newsletter, Gurman writes that a new high-end Mac mini, which has previously been reported to feature a new design with additional ports, can be expected to replace...
mac scanner permission error

Apple Says Fix Planned for 'You Do Not Have Permission to Open the Application' Error When Using a Scanner on Mac

Saturday August 14, 2021 6:15 am PDT by
In a newly published support document on its website, Apple has acknowledged an error that some users may receive when they try to use a scanner with a Mac in the Image Capture app, Preview app, or the Printers & Scanners section of System Preferences. A screenshot of the error message from the HP Support Community When attempting to use a scanner with a Mac, Apple said users might get an...
macbookpro13large

macOS Big Sur Update Bricking Some Older MacBook Pro Models

Sunday November 15, 2020 5:33 am PST by
A large number of late 2013 and mid 2014 13-inch MacBook Pro owners are reporting that the macOS Big Sur update is bricking their machines. A MacRumors forum thread contains a significant number of users reporting the issue, and similar problems are being reported across Reddit and the Apple Support Communities, suggesting the problem is widespread. Users are reporting that during the...
original iphone

Phil Schiller Says iPhone Was 'Earth-Shattering' Ten Years Ago and Remains 'Unmatched' Today

Monday January 9, 2017 7:15 am PST by
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller sat down with tech journalist Steven Levy for a wide-ranging interview about the smartphone's past, present, and future. The report first reflects upon the iPhone's lack of support for third-party apps in its first year. The argument inside Apple was split between whether the iPhone should be a closed...
m1 imac orange

New iMac Tidbits: Headphone Jack on Side, Ethernet Port on Power Adapter, Spatial Audio and WiFi 6 Support, No SD Card Slot

Wednesday April 21, 2021 6:38 am PDT by
Apple yesterday announced a completely redesigned 24-inch iMac with the M1 Apple silicon chip. The new iMac, the first major redesign of the Mac desktop computer since 2012, has several changes compared to the previous generation. In the aftermath of the event, a few new features and tidbits may have slipped under the radar, so we’ve compiled this list of some of the less-talked-about...
omg lightning cable comparison

Security Researcher Develops Lightning Cable With Hidden Chip to Steal Passwords

Thursday September 2, 2021 6:59 am PDT by
A normal-looking Lightning cable that can used to steal data like passwords and send it to a hacker has been developed, Vice reports. The "OMG Cable" compared to Apple's Lightning to USB cable. The "OMG Cable" works exactly like a normal Lightning to USB cable and can log keystrokes from connected Mac keyboards, iPads, and iPhones, and then send this data to a bad actor who could be over a...
Top Stories 75 Thumbnail

Top Stories: Last-Minute iPhone 13 Rumors, Apple Announces App Store Changes, and More

Saturday September 4, 2021 6:00 am PDT by
The finish line is in sight! Apple's annual iPhone event is likely just a week or so away and all eyes will be on the company as it unveils the next version of its most popular product line. With any luck, we'll also see the next-generation Apple Watch and perhaps even some new AirPods. Other news this week saw Apple making some more changes to its App Store policies in response to a...
General YouTube Feature 1

YouTube Premium and Music Surpass 50 Million Subscribers

Friday September 3, 2021 2:19 am PDT by
YouTube says it has passed 50 million subscribers for its Premium and Music subscriptions, making it the "fastest growing music subscription" service in the world, according to YouTube's global head of music, Lyor Cohen. YouTube says that it has more than 50 million paying subscribers collectively across YouTube Premium and YouTube Music. The Google-owned service says it attributes this...
iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2

Full iPhone 13 Feature Breakdown: Everything Rumors Say We Can Expect

Tuesday August 31, 2021 7:50 am PDT by
With the launch of Apple's iPhone 13 lineup believed to be just a few weeks away, we have compiled all of the coherent rumors from our coverage over the past year to build a full picture of the features and upgrades coming to the company's new smartphones. For clarity, only explicit improvements, upgrades, and new features compared to the iPhone 12 lineup are listed. It is worth noting that...
apple wallet drivers license

Apple Announces First U.S. States That Will Let You Add Your Driver's License to Your iPhone

Wednesday September 1, 2021 6:15 am PDT by
Apple today announced the first U.S. states that will be rolling out the ability for residents to add their driver's license or state ID to the Wallet app on the iPhone and Apple Watch. Arizona and Georgia will be the first states to support the feature, with Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah to follow, according to Apple. Apple said select TSA security checkpoints in ...