Apple Computer has applied for patents covering metadata management, according to Bill Slawski, who uncovered a series of Apple related patent applications in commenting on this writeris most recent column about spotlight tracking your file transfers in metadata. Two of the patents in particular seem to provide broad coverage.
One application makes some broad claims for a Web browser user interface that enables "a user to switch between displaying a file and displaying a feed related to the file."
The other applications make claims on managing metadata and indices. Those claims are also particularly broad; some might say incredibly broad. For example, the first claim of one application basically claims that Apple owns the ability to aggregate metadata from two or more programs for searching.
Claim 1 of patent application no. 20050289133, states:
1. A machine implemented method of managing data, the method comprising: capturing metadata from a plurality of files created by a plurality of different software applications which execute on a data processing system, wherein the type of information in metadata for files of a first software application differs from the type of information in metadata for files of a second software application; searching the metadata from the plurality of files created by the plurality of different software applications."
If this patent application issues with the claims in substantially the same form, it could basically lock out all comers. It could easily impact Microsoftis ability to implement its search techniques if the patent claims issue as written.
Of course, just because Apple made claims to that effect in the patent application, does not guarantee that the United States Patent and Trademark Office will issue the application as a patent with such broad coverage (or at all for that matter).
Regardless, it will be interesting to see what everyone will dig up by way of prior art and if these broad claims will survive.
Mr. Slawski provides a great list (with links) of all the patent applications.