It’s well known that Steve Jobs was one of Apple’s most prolific inventors. A search at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) site reveals 312 issued Apple patents where Jobs was one of the listed inventors; 269 of these of these were design patents, which cover ornamental design aspects of some device. (A search leaving Apple out found 317 patents issues to Jobs, implying he also filed a few patent applications in the years he was not at Apple.) There appear to be dozens more pending patent applications filed in Jobs’ name, as well.
Patents are issued by the PTO each Tuesday. The most recent Apple patent, and Steve Jobs’ most recent issued patent, was issued this week, Tuesday, Oct. 4, the day before Jobs died. It is U.S. Pat. No. 8,032,843, for “User interface for providing consolidation and access” (PDF). This is a broad patent covering the Mac OS X Dock (see below).
More particularly, this patent covers having a Dock type user bar or user interface where the items the user hovers over with the mouse grow larger, as if magnified. Or, as claim 1 of the patent puts it, in single-sentence patent lawyer-speak:
1. A method for displaying graphical representations of launchable applications on a display of a device comprising: displaying on the display a visible mechanism for launching one or more launchable applications, wherein the visible mechanism comprises multiple user-activatable graphical representations that respectively correspond to multiple launchable applications; detecting a position of a user input proximate to at least one of the graphical representations; in response to the detecting, increasing in size the at least one of the graphical representations; and increasing one or more of the remaining graphical representations to one or more respective sizes, each size being at least approximately inversely related to a distance between the respective one of the remaining graphical representations and the detected position.
Interestingly, this patent is a “continuation” of two earlier patent applications, the earliest of which was filed back in 1999, near the time of introduction of the OS X Dock. That means this patent should expire on Dec. 20, 2019 (20 years after the earliest priority date date). So this patent’s term is only about 8 years, unlike most patents, which last about 17 or so years (assuming 3 years between filing and issuance).
The earlier two applications also matured into patents, so this is not Apple’s first Dock patent. The first one was U.S. Pat. No. 7,434,177, issued Oct. 7, 2008 (9 years after it was filed) (see also Apple patents OS X Dock, The Register, Oct. 8, 2008); the second was U.S. Pat. No. 7,526,738, issued in 2009. The ’177 patent is also very broad, claim 1 reading:
1. A computer system comprising: a display; a cursor for pointing to a position within said display; a bar rendered on said display and having a plurality of tiles associated therewith; and a processor for varying a size of at least one of said plurality of tiles on said display when said cursor is proximate said bar on said display and for repositioning others of said plurality of tiles along said bar to accommodate the varied size of said one tile.
The ’738 patent provides yet another variation on describing how dock tiles work.