Yet another important patent has been granted to Apple, it appears, as a patent they filed in June of last year has now been approved. It covers the use of “widgets” on the OS X desktop, which is a feature that first appeared in OS X 10.4 back in 2005. The patent defines a widget pretty broadly, as just about any active desktop element than can present data or perform a task. We can think of plenty of examples of prior art, but that’s never stopped the USPTO from granting patents to Apple before, so why start now?
The precise nature of a widget is described in the patent as follows:
Widgets can be of any type. They can communicate with a remote server to provide information to the user (for example, a weather report), or they can provide commonly needed functionality (for example, a calculator), or they can act as an information repository (for example, a notepad or calendar). Some widgets can provide a combination of these types of functions. In one aspect, an application programming interface (API) is provided so as to allow third-party developers to create and distribute additional widgets that provide different types of functionality.
A patent like this being granted to Apple could cause problems for other developer making desktop widgets for other operating systems, but at least Microsoft won’t have any issues. Their widget overlay for Windows 7, called Gadgets, has been almost entirely trashed due to security issues. It isn’t available in Windows 8, and isn’t even recommended for Windows 7 users any more. Apple may have gotten this patent too late for it to have much effect on major competitors, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll use it against smaller developers who may still be making desktop widget software for Windows.