The invention, which in 2009 Apple called a "Reduced Size Multi-Pin Male Plug Connector" describes a 30-pin dock connector for "high-speed communication standards," citing USB 3.0 and a "dual channel" DisplayPort.
The name "Thunderbolt" wasn't mentioned (unsurprisingly, given that it only launched in February 2011 on the new MacBook Pro) but the patent's multiple mentions of a "dual channel" DisplayPort suggests the same technology.
Thunderbolt combines Intel's PCI Express and DisplayPort into a single connector for theoretical transfer speeds of 10 Gbps (fast enough to download a full-length Blu-ray movie in under 30 seconds).
It's time to insert another quarter in the Apple rumor-machine. In addition to the rumored Macbook Pro refresh coming in a week or two—we've reported a possible March 1 date for an introduction of Intel's Sandy Bridge CPU lineup into the line, though other sites are indicating that this could occur as early as February 24—it's time to throw a new connector into the fray as well.
CNet is reporting that an undisclosed source has told the site that Apple plans to introduce a new connection technology "soon." The site then goes on to speculate that this may or may not be a part of the rumored Macbook refresh—rumors upon rumors!—and that the technology may or may not be the Apple-renamed version of Intel's Light Peak connection technology.
Just to refresh, Apple's been balking at adding USB 3.0 to its product lineups for some time now. "We don't see USB 3 taking off at this time. No support from Intel, for example," Apple CEO Steve Jobs allegedly replied when asked about USB 3.0 in an e-mailed question by a customer last year.