With another iPhone announcement expected in the next month, a recent Apple patent application for digital content gifting could provide insight into how Apple would develop Near Field Communication technology for payments.

In March, about the same time Apple announced a stronger security system for consumers purchasing songs, videos or e-books from its digital store, the company submitted a patent for media gifting powered through NFC.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant's patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office calls for a method by which iOS device users could send digital content to each other through an NFC connection.

For the past two years, there has been rampant speculation about when — or even if — Apple would include NFC technology in its iPhones. That speculation hit fever pitch in June when a series of other patents that included wireless payments at the point of sale surfaced just before company's Worldwide Developers Conference.

In addition, the thought of an Apple iWatch that could be used to make contactless payments has been simmering for the better part of this year. The concept became more concrete when Apple purchased Passif Semiconductor and its patents.

In its patent filing, Apple acknowledges that it is currently fairly simple for a consumer to download a digital media file from a content provider and store it on a computer for future playback. However, "the transfer of such files between individuals is often times problematic due to the nature of copyright protection," Apple says.

To get around that problem, Apple envisions a system in which "a gift offer may be transmitted from the initiating device to the receiving device using a close range communication protocol, such as an NFC connection." The receiving device, upon receiving the offer, may transmit an acceptance message using the NFC connection, Apple states in the patent application.

The receiver's account information associated with the online digital media provider would be included and transferred to the initiating device.

For those in the payments industry, that comes close to describing how a payment transaction could take place from an Apple iPhone to a merchant terminal.  

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