Apple is constantly filing patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, no one saw this one coming:

On December 19, 2009, the company filed a patent it described as “systems and methods for integrating travel services in a single application available to a portable electronic device.” Apple included the following sketch with its application:

Here’s the problem: The sketch looks exactly like an application already available in the App Store and not owned by Apple! The app is called Where To? – GPS points of interest, designed by FutureTap. Its founder, Ortwin Gentz is fuming and rightly so. On his blog he said the following:

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.

This is what the app looks like. The similarities between it, and the sketch are more than just a coincidence, in my opinion:

I haven’t a clue where this is heading. But, you can be sure that (many) lawyers are looking into it.

Siding with caution, it is entirely possible that Apple did nothing wrong. Perhaps their sketch was taken from the existing app to add clarity to its patent application. And, its patent request could be for a function completely different. Or, something sinister is going on.

The team at AppAdvice.com will update our readers on this story as it develops.