Its not new, and no it wasn't introduced in Star Wars The Old Republic. But because of the hype and huge draw of the game it is where a lot of people first encounter area looting. No matter where you first started area looting there is one thing in common with everyone. It's so very hard to go back to individual loot systems.
I have started playing World of Warcraft again just because our little tight knit group has been missing the social aspects of it. But it is just so painful to loot in that game. Not just for the lack of area loot, but the loot distance. Star Wars while not perfect, as somehow everyone expected it to be... <offtopicburstrage> IT'S A NEW GAME FOLKS, GIVE IT THE TIME IT DESERVES TO BE POLISHED, WORLD OF WARCRAFT HAD ITS FLAWS IN THE BEGINNING TOO YA KNOW.</offtopicrant> ... managed to get a few things such as the area loot and loot distance being higher so you don't need to be right on top of the corpse.
Anyways, it's a big deal. So big a deal it's got a video post on MMO-Champion. Check it out.