The "cover attachment with flexible display" filing describes a device nearly identical to the iPad's existing Smart Covers, which provide protection and wake the tablet up when opened.
But the newly patented design places a flexible touch screen capable of displaying notifications, media controls, or even a virtual keyboard on the Smart Cover's surface.
The secondary display could draw power and data from the iPad through a connector held in place by the magnets already present in existing Smart Covers, or possibly even from solar panels or other means.
Microsoft's not going to be happy
These next-gen Smart Cover designs appear to draw heavily from the Microsoft Surface tablet's Type Cover and Touch cover, though in reality Apple filed for the patent almost a year ago, and it's only just been made public.
Plus, the added flexibility (excuse the pun) that comes from putting a versatile display on the Smart Cover rather than just a keyboard will doubtless help the Apple device stand out if it ever comes to fruition.
Apple's patent filing leaves a lot of wiggle room in terms of features and form, but any version of this technology will make the next iPad all the more attractive to tablet buyers.
Another option discussed in the patent would put energy-efficient electronic paper displays on the Smart Cover's outer surface, allowing users to display notifications, calendar events and other information without even opening the device.
As the patent claims, "adding the integrated display to the flexible cover greatly enhances the overall functionality of the tablet device."
Is the iPad 4 incoming?
The new Smart Cover designs present plenty of possibilities and raise even more questions, such as just when the next iPad is going to be revealed.
Naturally, iPad 4 rumors have been circulating for months, but this latest patent could indicate that Apple's finally gearing up to reveal their newest tablet.
Then again, it could just be another of the endless ideas no doubt swirling around in Apple's collective noggin, most of which never see the light of day.
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Michael Rougeau is a former freelance news writer for TechRadar. Studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Northeastern University, Michael has bylines at Kotaku, 1UP, G4, Complex Magazine, Digital Trends, GamesRadar, GameSpot, IFC, Animal New York, @Gamer, Inside the Magic, Comic Book Resources, Zap2It, TabTimes, GameZone, Cheat Code Central, Gameshark, Gameranx, The Industry, Debonair Mag, Kombo, and others.
Micheal also spent time as the Games Editor for Playboy.com, and was the managing editor at GameSpot before becoming an Animal Care Manager for Wags and Walks.