Apple has filed for yet another patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, this time dealing with in-app purchasing.
It is hard to tell the scope of what the patent may cover, but if my interpretation of the wording is correct it may cover many of the processes used by Google, Microsoft, and RIM for their in-app content purchases. It also seems to cover any style app, even one delivered as an HTML 5 web app.
If it turns out to be defensible, it may be true that Apple will completely own the concept of in-app purchasing where the model reflects sales generated at an external source but directed through a central app.
Because the tech industry files for and receives patents for nearly any and every idea they have these days, it isn’t surprising that there are considerable criticisms over this one. Some are saying that patent holding company Lodsys LLC already has a similar patent and that theirs may actually be wider in scope.
The one thing we can all agree on is that patent law is complicated and very difficult to interpret.
A lot of people are left questioning how Apple could possibly patent technology already being licensed and provided by another company, but if they are being much more specific that might answer the question. Historically, very broad patents prove difficult to defend because their interpretation is vague.
The wording in Apple’s patent application quite specifically describes the technology being used by the App Store:
The present technology provides a purchasing interface within an application that allows users to purchase a product from another source without leaving the application. The application offers a product for purchase, and a user, desiring to purchase the product can provide an input effective to cause a purchasing interface to be displayed. While the purchasing interface, or information presented therein, comes from the product source, which is different than the application source, it is presented in such a fashion that gives the impression to the user that they are purchasing the product directly from the application.
So the question becomes whether Apple can prove they were doing it first and then what they want to do with that power if it turns out they were.