The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued Apple Design Patent No. D661,296 (via The Verge)which covers the asymmetrical wedge-like or so-called "teardrop" shape first introduced in the company's MacBook Air line of computers.
While the patent itself is nearly devoid of details, usual for a design patent, the schematic illustrations give an exhaustive look at how the MacBook Air's body differs from existing thin-and-light PCs. The lack of text could indeed give the patent more power as it does not limit the scope to which Apple defines the laptop's design.
The patent could be important if Apple decides to pursue legal action against lookalike laptops scheduled to roll out later this year. Some upcoming products from the Intel-backed "Ultrabook" initiative bears a striking resemblance to the MacBook Air, and if Apple follows with tradition these Windows-based laptops could face infringement suits.
Intel claims that ultrabooks not only offer better performance than the iPad but represent a better value than current laptop offerings from Apple, a comment directed at the Mac-maker's thin-and-light. Price points are in contention, however, as component costs associated with Intel's specifications have brought many ultrabook products near or above the cost of a MacBook Air.
Illustration from Apple's MacBook Air design patent. | Source: USPTO
Apple hasn't yet expressed any interest in taking ultrabook makers to court, however that may change as the products begin to hit shelves. Currently, HP's Envy Spectre XT and Asus' Zenbook UX31 are the front-running ultrabooks and both take visual cues from the MacBook Air.