While most inventions depicted in Apple’s patents don’t usually end up in consumer products, they do provide an interesting look into the company’s R&D labs. Some are particularly entertaining when they fall in line with persistent rumors.

Such is the case with the new “Configurable Remote Control” patent, discovered this morning by PatentlyApple. The invention shows a method of using your iPhone as a self-programming universal TV remote…

During an interview in 2010, Steve Jobs said that the remote control situation going on in our living rooms today is ridiculous. We have one for the TV, one for the cable or satellite box, one for the DVD player and then one for the stereo.

Sure, there are hundreds of universal remotes on the market. But most of them are too complicated to use or too complexed to setup. That’s where Apple’s configurable remote comes in.

“The method may begin by obtaining an input that may be used to identify the electronic device that is to be controlled, such as by using image processing techniques to compare the captured image against a database of know devices. For example, the control device may capture an image of the electronic device with its built-in camera. The control device may then identify the device that is to be controlled. For example, the control device may determine the make and/or model and/or the type of the device to be controlled.”

Yeah, you read it right. Apple is talking about using your iPhone (or similar device) to take a picture of an existing remote, and then converting that image into an usable touch screen remote control. Talk about easy programming.

Given the amount of chatter we’ve heard over the past few months regarding an Apple-branded TV set, it’s quite possible that this patent could surface in the future. And we’re hoping it does, because admittedly, this is pretty cool.

[MacRumors]