The filing, covering US Patent Application #20130024281, describes "a point-of-sale (POS) terminal, a POS controller, [and] a retail subscription system." It is aimed at cutting out the difficulty and price differential arising from a customer buying one issue of a periodical at newsstand price and then deciding she wants to subscribe to the periodical.
Under the above scenario, the customer winds up paying more, since newsstand issues are sold at higher cost than issues as part of a subscription. Also, the retailer loses out, since it gets no portion of the subscription price paid to the publisher, even though the retailer initiated the subscription sale.
Though the process described involves paper periodicals and retail locations, the granting of the patent to Apple doesn't likely mean the tech giant will be making a move into physical periodical sales any time soon. The patent revealed today matches US Patent #5926796, filed in May of 1997 by Jay Walker ? founder of Priceline.com (Priceline now says it has had no ties to Mr. Walker since 2000) and eponymous head of Walker Digital ? and likely stems from Walker's prior legal dealings with Apple.
In 2011, Walker Digital filed suit against Apple and more than 100 other companies, including Sony, The Walt Disney Company, The Weather Channel, and eBay, alleging illegal use of inventions it claimed to have created in the 1990s. It filed a second suit a week later against Apple and other companies over the iPad and multiple apps available in Apple's App Store.
Walker Digital was widely derided as a "patent troll," as few, if any, of the patents the company holds have materialized into actual products. Still, mid-2011 brought reports that Apple, Groupon, and others had settled with Walker rather than face drawn out litigation.
Apple's Newsstand feature may have necessitated a patent settlement.
The companies are said to have agreed to pay more than $25 million to settle Walker's patent suits, and the settlement is said to have included licensing and a sale of some patents. The periodical subscription patent would seem to have been among those sold to Apple, which deals daily with similar content thanks to the Newsstand feature it has built into its iOS platform.