USPTO Reaffirms Powerful Apple Location Services Patent

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has reissued a patent to Apple covering location services that could become a powerful weapon in the company’s mobile arsenal. The patent could give Apple singular control over basic location-based services and serve as yet-another legal truncheon in Apple’s patent wars against Android and Android device makers.

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The patent was acquired from Xerox in 2009—it was originally filed in 1998 and issued to Xerox in 2000. According to CNet, Apple took ownership of the patent on December 17th, 2009. Apple refiled for the patent on September 1, 2010, and the U.S.P.T.O. reaffirmed it by reissuing it on November 15th, 2011.

Not only does the patent cover essential location services concepts, it’s old enough to predate current social networking location-aware ideas by many years.

According to the patent documentation, “The invention generally relates to obtaining information relating to a specific location using a positioning system. More particularly, the invention relates to a system and method for obtaining location specific information about a particular location using a distributed network in combination with the positioning system. “

In other words, the patent covers the idea of getting information about a given location over a “distributed network” (say, the Internet). The specifics describe a method of doing so that combines transceivers, GPS, and other ideas that precisely cover what we do today with smartphones.

If Apple is able to assert this patent against other companies that use location-based data to provide services, it could result in a licensing windfall against companies like Square, Facebook, Google, and other social networking services, and it could conceivably also be used stop location services on Android and other non-Apple devices, though such an outcome would be extreme, to say the least.