Apple scores iTravel patent featuring NFC and Passbook integration

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) had a busy morning, publishing as much as 23 newly granted patents for Apple, one of them concerning NFC technology rumored to debut on the next iPhone and Passbook, a new iOS 6 application that Apple’s marketing honcho Phil Schiller insists isn’t a direct payment solution. The iTravel patent, as it’s been dubbed, covers travel services such as a boarding pass and express check-in, amongst other stuff…

Originally filed in 2008 and credited to Apple engineers Amir Mikhak and Gloria Lin, the iTravel patent was first discovered and analyzed by Jack Purcher of Canada-based blog PatentlyApple.

According to an abstract, it explains that the check-in system will work with Macs as well as iPhones, iPads and iPods, with ticketing and identification information stored on the device and transmitted to another electronic device via near field communication (NFC).

Additionally, traveler identification information may be transmitted electronically to enable faster security verification during check-in. The traveler identification information may enable automatic lookup of the traveler in a security database, thereby reducing the inconveniences of incorrect identification.

Travelers may also provide specialized identification, such as fingerprints or retinal scans, in order to provide heightened security on high-risk modes of transportation.

The travel management software should also be able to retrieve digital reservations from email messages, travel documents (via OCR), bar codes and QR codes and another devices.

And if I’m reading this right, iOS devices could not only be used to check into flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, trains, buses and so forth, but also to pay for these services.

Apple filed numerous patents in the past pertaining to a mobile payment system, including a comprehensive patent for iWallet and another one regarding NFC devices.

Furthermore, MasterCard’s head of mobile payment solutions Ed McLaughlin said in an interview with FastCompany that he imagined Apple working on a wireless mobile payment system, while analysts seem to be warming up to the idea as well.

However, a recent piece by The Wall Street Journal shot down those rumors with claims that Apple instead will employ waiting tactics. Apparently, a small group led by iOS chief Scott Forstall investigate feasibility of an Apple-branded mobile payment service until the management pulled the project because it would require direct payments to merchants that would put Apple’s reputation at risk and require the company to literally “become a bank”.

Our own Cody Lee recently opined Apple shouldn’t stay on the sidelines too long, especially with Google doubling down on its limited Wallet service and Microsoft announcing its Wallet in Windows 8. Apple commands a cool 400 million accounts on iTunes with credit cards enabled for one-click purchasing, meaning Apple is best poised to mainstream mobile payments.

What do you think, should Apple enter this space in a big way or wait out to learn from other people’s mistakes?