All your customers are belong to us

Apple While publishers freak out over Apple’s demand for a piece of their iPad action, Apple Insider points to a newly issued patent that suggests Apple may eventually impose the same sort of vig on wireless service providers as well, now that the iPhone and iPad have been untethered in the U.S. from a single carrier.

The patent, titled “Dynamic carrier selection,” was originally filed in 2006, a year before the iPhone was actually introduced, and describes a method by which mobile devices could store multiple network addresses from different networks allowing the device to communicate with multiple network service providers. After receiving data from all available networks in a given area, the device or the user could the select which one to use according to various criteria, such as signal strength, cost, usage rules, etc.

As described in the filing, the system would allow mobile devices or their users to conduct auctions, in which multiple carriers would bid to provide service at any given time:

In some situations, bids are received from multiple network operators for rates at which communication services using each network operator can be obtained. Preferences among the network operators are identified using the received bids, and the preferences are used to select the network operator for the mobile device to use in conducting communications.

The potential kicker, of course, is that Apple could insist that it handle all the accounting and bill users for wireless service through their iTunes accounts. That would leave Apple in a position to skim its cut before remitting payment to the wireless network provider.

In fact, it’s hard to think of why Apple would even introduce the functionality to its mobile devices if that weren’t the plan.