Apple has received a patent for the OS X dock after waiting nearly 9 years for the application to be approved.
The OS X dock is the navigation focal point on Apple computers. The dock includes shortcuts to regularly used programs, and users can rearrange those icons, or add and remove them at will.
The patent extends to the design and interaction of the dock, so in theory anyone imitating the dock would be in breach of the patent. ObjectDock, RocketDock and Avant Windows Navigator are three such programs, and there are others as well; some even come packaged with Linux distributions. As The Register points out, Apple hasn’t been shy in enforcing its patents, so you’d expect there would be legal trouble ahead.
There is an argument against Apple cracking down on these program though: they’re gateway tools for switching to Apple machines. People like the dock, and if they’re comfortable with using it vs the standard Windows layout, they may be more comfortable with switching to Mac computers.