Debate has raged, not least in the courts, about whether Apple should really be able to patent a rectangular device with rounded corners. Seems the US Patent and Trademark Office thinks it can, because it just granted a patent which lays claim to the shape of the iPad.
Patent no. D670,286 defines the basic shape of the first iPad, represented by the solid black line in the image below. The dashed lines are there merely for context and don't contribute to the patent: what's being protected here is a single, round-cornered rectangle.
Apple holds plenty of other design patents relating to the iPad and iPhone already — covering everything from the home button, the back surface contour, the bezel shape, the side profile, blah, blah, blah — but this one ignores all that in favour of defining the perimeter of the device.
It's a ridiculously broad patent, and it will no doubt cause much head-scratching within courts and tech companies the world over. In fairness, it should cause some head scratching for everyone: a world in which it's possible to patent a simple shape seems an odd one indeed.
Of course, this only really matters if Apple ever actually chooses to use the patent in anger against its competitors. It's not clear it will, because it's easy to find patents like this invalid in the courts on prior arts grounds. Given Apple's track record, however, nothing should be ruled out. [USPTO via Ars Technica]