There's been a big fuss over a few Apple patents lately, but their newest patent submission home screen for a travel app called iTravel is a 1:1 copy of FutureTap's WhereTo.
My first reaction was probably a similar reaction to Ortwin Gentz, the founder of FutureTap, who wrote in a blog post:
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. We’re faced with a situation where we’ve to fear that our primary business partner is trying to “steal” our idea and design. So how to deal with that? — As some of you know, we’ve always been more than grateful for the platform Apple created. And, in fact, still are. However, we can’t ignore it if the #1 recognition value of our (currently) only app potentially is under fire. Where To? 1.0 with its characteristic home screen has been launched on day 1 of the App Store. The patent has been filed in December 2009. And clearly, the number of details with all the icons, their ordering and the actual app name “Where To?” in the title bar (which, as a sidenote, doesn’t make a lot of sense as a module in a potential iTravel app) can’t be randomly invented the same way by someone else. I’m not a lawyer. I can’t really judge whether the inclusion of a 1:1 copy of our start screen in someone else’s patent is legal. I just have to say, it doesn’t feel right.
It turns out that the image involved really has nothing to do with the invention at all, and is just an example illustration. The real patent is "a "travel itinerary application" which will be available to walk a traveler through everything step of a flight from preflight activities at the virtual service counter to activities at the airport as well as in-flight and post-flight activities. You'll be able to reserve restaurants at your destination, order a video game for in-flight entertainment, order special in-flight meals, order a specific type of movie while on flight or set-up sightseeing tours – just for starters.
If I were Apple, and I'm not, I would probably reach out to developers before submitting public patent applications with their exact home screens, just to end the kind of maddening confusion that Ortwin Gentz felt. Let's just hope that they don't actually use WhereTo's home screen in the app...