Apple Lands TV Menu-Overlay Patent

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Apple has been granted a patent covering an on-screen TV menu that presents contextually aware navigation options for live or recorded television programming -- but whether the consumer-electronics giant incorporates it into any products is anyone's guess.

U.S. Patent No. 8,243,017, "Menu Overlay Including Context Dependent Menu Icon," describes a video device that generates a context-sensitive menu overlay within the on-screen display. Apple applied for the patent in October 2006 and the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted it Aug. 14.

Apple on-screen menu patent

The patent details an on-screen guide for live TV and DVR programming that determines what menus and controls to display, based on the type of content being viewed. For example, the system would present an interactive delete icon within the overlay for DVR content, then replace it with a record button after determining that the video source changed to a broadcast video source.

"Often the large number of options and menus available to a user are not presented to the user in an intuitive manner," according to the text of the patent. "The lack of an intuitive user interface and a similarly uncomplicated control device are often a source of user frustration."

Apple currently sells a $99 set-top device, the Apple TV, which provides access to Internet video sources including Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus but not conventional linear TV. The CE giant has been rumored to be developing an integrated TV set, although there is scant evidence of one to date.

The text of the patent is available here.

In 2010, Apple reached a multiyear patent-licensing deal with Rovi, which owns several patents related to interactive program guides.

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