Apple Computer Inc.s patent application, which dates back to November 2003, was published Thursday on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices Web site. By law, most patent applications become public record within 18 months of being filed, a patent office spokeswoman said.
According to the filing, the patent covers a method in which "information-bearing windows whose contents remain unchanged for a predetermined period of time become translucent." The translucency would intensify the longer a windows content remains unchanged, the patent application states.
The patent filing was first reported last week by The Mac Observer.
For its next Windows operating system, code-named "Longhorn," Microsoft Corp. has demonstrated translucent-appearing windows, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft.
Such a feature is part of the Aero user interface system in Longhorn, he said. The Redmond, Wash., software maker demonstrated Avalon (the graphics presentation system within Longhorn), as well as Aero, which runs atop Avalon, earlier this month during the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle.
Representatives from both Apple and Microsoft declined to comment on the patent application. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has yet to be granted the patent, a process that can take years and can end without a patent being issued.
While the patent could pit Apple against Microsoft, Rosoff said he doesnt expect an intellectual-property fight between the companies. More likely, he said, the companies would work out a cross-licensing arrangement.
"Microsoft in the last couple of years has been pretty judicious about patents and about having patents in place and arranging swaps," Rosoff said. "I would be surprised if this turns into any sort of fight."
The two companies do have a history of battling over key aspects of their operating systems. More than a decade ago, in 1992, Microsoft and Apple faced off in a copyright case. Apple had sued Microsoft over its use of such elements as windows, icons and menus in its Windows operating system. Microsoft eventually won.
The two companies also reached an unexpected agreement in 1997, in which Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple and agreed to continue developing versions of its Office productivity suite and Internet Explorer Web browser for the Mac operating system.
That five-year deal ended almost two years ago, and Microsoft has since stopped developing IE for Mac but has continued updating its Office for Mac suite.