The patent awarded this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is for a car stereo that includes a docking station for an off-the-shelf handheld computer.
While the station is likely to support Microsoft's Zune portable media player, the patent indicates that the dock also would support third party devices. The patent says that the stereo would include an input/output component that would enable the car stereo to tell the handheld computer "which one of a plurality of different appliance types the car stereo is."
The patent is the latest move for Microsoft in in-car entertainment systems. Ford Motor in January said it would offer a factory-installed communications and entertainment system based on Microsoft automobile software called Sync.
The application enables people to bring into their cars nearly any mobile phone or digital media player, and operate it using voice commands, or controls on the vehicle's steering wheel or radio.
The system was set to debut this year on the 2008 Ford Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer and Sport Trac; the Mercury Milan, Montego and Mountaineer; and the Lincoln MKX and MKZ.