Recent reports suggest that Apple has started focusing its living room efforts on a cable-friendly set-top box, instead of the long-rumored television set. But the Cupertino company is said to still be negotiating with major cable companies.

Talks are reportedly moving slowly, as cable providers are extremely hesitant to allow Apple into their industry. And this probably won’t help their cause. The iPad-makers have just been awarded a patent for skipping commercials…

Engadget points to the patent, which was granted to Apple today by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Here’s an excerpt:

“A method for seamlessly switching between two content sources, comprising: receiving a first stream from a first media source, wherein the first media stream comprises a first plurality of media items; sequentially playing back the first plurality of media items of the received first media stream; determining that an upcoming media item of the first plurality of media items of the received first media stream is not of interest to a user; identifying second media that is of interest to the user; and switching playback from the first media stream to the identified second media when the upcoming media item is received. “

So essentially this allows a user to seamlessly switch between two media streams, when one of them becomes uninteresting.

Possible scenarios:

“The method of claim 1, wherein at least one of the media items of the first plurality of media items comprises one of a music segment of a broadcast, a talk segment of a broadcast, a sports segment of a broadcast, a traffic segment of a broadcast, a weather segment of a broadcast, and an advertisement segment of a broadcast.”

There you have it, an “advertisement segment of a broadcast.” Your Apple TV set, or set-top box, would pick up on a commercial break, automatically send you to a different TV show or on-demand content, and then bring you back when it’s over.

While this would no doubt make the hair on the necks of cable executives stand up, it doesn’t say the invention is limited to TV. Imagine you’re listening to Pandora, and when a advertisement starts, your iPhone automatically switched to a song from your local library. It could even be from the same artist or genre you were listening to.

Even if the features detailed in this patent never see the light of day, it’s still very interesting that Apple is looking into and working on such things  — especially with rumors swirling about that it has a cable box in the works.