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Will Apple use new MacBook Air patent to hurt ultrabook makers?

A patent awarded Apple on the design of the MacBook Air might make it tough for the competition to design their own Apple-inspired ultrabooks.


Ultrabook makers trying to copy the look and feel of the MacBook Air could be headed for some patent trouble.

Among a lengthy list of patents awarded to Apple this week is one dubbed D654,072, which covers "the ornamental design for an electronic device, as shown and described."

Though the phrase "MacBook Air" is nowhere to be found, the drawings accompanying the patent show a thin laptop with a tapered edge, clearly matching the design of Apple's popular "ultrabook."

Blogging site Patently Apple points to the new patent as the sixth one for the MacBook Air since 2009. Included among the several Apple employees listed as inventors are the late Steve Jobs and Industrial Design VP Jonathan Ive.

Since the patent uses the term "ornamental design," it could easily be used as ammunition to thwart other vendors who veer too close to the look and feel of the MacBook Air. Apple may have already warned one such vendor who stepped on its toes.

Just before the new patent was awarded, Apple reportedly pressured Taipei-based Pegatron to stop manufacturing the Asus Zenbook over complaints that it looks too much like the Air. And since Pegatron relies on Apple for a lot of business, the manufacturer was quick to comply, reportedly agreeing to stop making the Zenbook come March.

As Patently Apple notes, "it sure doesn't hurt having several recent design patents in your back pocket to make the point that someone is infringing on your design. You have to wonder if Apple is now going to begin legal action against the new wave of MacBook Air copycats in the wings."

Of course, not all ultrabook makers are playing copycat to Apple. Those whose machines are unique in design are likely to be safe.

But others who steer too close to the MacBook Air may get their wrists slapped. CEO Tim Cook himself has hinted that ultrabook makers trying to mimic the Air may be headed for rough waters.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published today, Cook declined to discuss the future of the Air, saying that Apple remains "secretive" about such plans. But he did say that "now, you see the industry at large trying to copy it in some way, but they'll find that it is not so easy."