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Reissued patent could give Apple control of location-based services

Apple has been granted a location services patent that is so basic it could possibly cover any existing location-based system, giving the iPhone maker a powerful weapon in its already formidable intellectual property arsenal.

It was revealed that the US Patent and Trademark Office issued Apple a patent on Tuesday that pre-dates current location services technology, is broad enough to cover almost any location-based system and could possibly be leveraged against industry rivals, reports CBS News.

The granted claim is actually a reissue of a location services patent Xerox filed for ing 1998 and was subsequently granted in 2000. According to the USPTO, the Apple took ownership of the claim on Dec. 17, 2009.

"In other words, this patent is old enough to predate much of what is now happening in both mobile and social media," reports Erik Sherman. "Even worse — for Apple's competitors — it's broad."

The claim covers a system in which a device displays information specific to its location, with no restriction as to what type of data is displayed. This means that any location sensitive service like location-based ads, which Apple implements in iAds, or local restaurant ratings can be protected by the patent.

The first independent claim of the patent helps to partially summarize what the patent possibly covers:

A location information system that displays location specific information, the location information system, comprising: a receiver that receives location identification information from at least one site specific object identifying a location.Iadd., where the at least one site specific object is a beacon.Iaddend.; and a transceiver that transmits the location identification information to a distributed network and that receives the location specific information about the specified location from the distributed network based on the location identification information, wherein the location specific information provides information corresponding to the location.

Technical specifications as to how the system works is broadly worded, saying that a device must receive data that identifies its location from at least one site specific object. The data is then transmitted via a transceiver to a distributed network that sends back information about the device's location or surroundings.

This effectively covers a wide range of means to obtaining location-specific information including GPS, which Apple specifically included in the reissue of the patent by broadening the claim's language.

For example, a GPS satellite sends a signal to a mobile phone with GPS capabilities that then relays the information to the Internet through a data network and receives location-specific information in return. Upon receiving the location data, a device can implement the information into ads, apps, or in any way the manufacturer sees fit.

Input to distributed network | Source: USPTO

The wording is so broad that even QR codes or images from a mobile device's camera can be considered as input information.

QR patent image
QR code input | Source: USPTO

Because many smartphones have GPS capabilities and a vast majority have cameras, Apple could possibly leverage the patent against mobile phone manufacturers that use input information for location-based services.

Software such as Facebook and Foursquare could also fall under the claim's purview as some of the services offered can be considered location-specific.

"Given that location-based service is one key to the mobile ambitions of virtually everyone else in the industry, the patent could give Apple control over some hot parts of mobile technology, including location-based innovation in advertising, social networks, mapping, flash deals, and augmented reality," Sherman writes.

Apple has yet to leverage the patent in any way, and it remains unclear what exactly would constitute infringement, however it seems that the company now owns a very powerful piece of intellectual property.