Wireless charging is set to take off this year with the likes of  HTC’s (2498Windows Phone 8XNokia’s (NOK) Lumia 920 and 820 and Google’s (GOOG) Nexus 4. By comparison, Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 5 feels decidedly last-gen without wireless charging or NFC. Apple’s reason for omitting wireless charging is that smartphones still need charging stations/plates plugged into the wall to work. A new Apple patent discovered by AppleInsider suggests the company is investigating a more elegant solution – wireless charging that uses “near-field magnetic resonance” to recharge an iPhone’s battery. The patent details a “virtual charging area” about one meter wide that can be used to provide electricity to devices simply by stepping within a certain radius of a power source. The patent calls the idea a “realistic and practical approach to wireless transferring.”

The filing, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, indicates Apple filed the patent in November 2010, meaning the feature could already be in development and could make it into a future iPhone.

As with all patents, the implications are grand, but the technology to make it happen might not be cost-effective just yet. Companies often patent ideas to protect themselves from future infringements, even if they never make it into actual products.

Raymond Wong is a technology reporter with a passion for cutting-edge gadgets and clean design. He first realized his love for technology when he burned through so many AA batteries on the original Game Boy that scraping battery acid off it became the norm.