A newly published Apple patent application is causing controversy online as it contains a screen illustration that is very similar to the interface of a third-party iOS application. The patent application, titled “Systems And Methods For Accessing Travel Services Using A Portable Electronic Device,” describes an app offering services such as “reserving a travel itinerary, checking-in remotely for a reservation, providing airport information, providing for social networking, obtaining dining or entertainment during travel, controlling and requesting cabin services, providing arrival notifications to third parties,” and “providing destination location information.”
The issue stems from figure 6 of the patent application, which contains an illustration of a screen virtually identical to the main interface of WhereTo? from FutureTap. As the app has been available since day one of the App Store and the application was filed in December 2009, it is unlikely that Apple didn’t know of WhereTo? prior to the filing—in fact, the app’s name appears in the illustration. “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,” said Ortwin Gentz of FutureTap. “We’re faced with a situation where we’ve to fear that our primary business partner is trying to ‘steal’ our idea and design.” While the text of the patent application doesn’t completely overlap with the idea and purpose of the WhereTo? app, its very appearance in an Apple patent application without prior notice or warning is cause for concern; Apple has yet to comment on the matter.