A few weeks ago, the USPTO revealed a patent application
from Apple that's getting some attention in the press from folks like Forbes
. Those publications are using the app to guess at what Apple has in mind for future innovations on its mobile devices, as the patent application is for using a mobile device to place a shopping order at a store, and then being alerted to when it's ready. The real question, though, should be why Apple could possibly deserve a monopoly on this idea? I remember four or five years ago, some folks pitching me on a very similar idea. It had been inspired by the plastic light-up pucks that some restaurants give you when you're waiting for a free table. Many of those are based on old pager networks, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to try to update that concept for the mobile age, and realize that you could do the same sort of alerting via someone's mobile phone. From there, it was about a five minute conversation before it became obvious that since this was a two way system, you could easily add ordering functionality for take-out, or put a "reservation" in remotely before getting to the restaurant. As far as I know, these guys never moved forward with the business plan, but it's hard to see why, years later, Apple suddenly deserves a monopoly on the concept. However, it does show, once again, that a lack of official "prior art" shouldn't automatically be reason to grant a patent. Just because something hasn't yet been done commercially doesn't mean that it's not a fairly obvious idea to people in the space. Hopefully, the USPTO recognizes that and rejects the patent application, but given what gets approved these days, that doesn't seem likely.