TECH BUZZ // PATENT WATCH BY KIRK TESKA
Touch screens are now ubiquitous. They are one of the technologies that my kids were born with but didn’t exist, at least commercially, when I was young.
Several sources list the first touch screen patent
as No. 3,911,215 dated October 7, 1975, by George
Hurst and William Colwell Jr. of Elographics Inc. in
Oak Ridge, Tenn. The patent describes two sheets
separated by spacers. Each sheet is energized and
when a pen touches the top sheet it deflects to touch
the bottom sheet producing signals that correlate to
the x- and y-coordinates of the pen.
That same patent, though, reveals that a 1972
patent (No. 3,632,874) describes basically the same
idea. Another patent, No. 3,482,241 dated August 2,
1966, has an abstract which reads:
“A plurality of touch-sensitive contacts, placed adjacent the screen of a cathode ray tube, which may
be selectively actuated for indicating which portion
of the image on the cathode ray screen
is to be examined in further detail. The
position of the actuated contact with
respect to the viewing screen indicates
which portion of the image has been
selected to an output means such as a
data processing system. Either resistance change or capacitance change
across the actuated contact may be
A capacitive touch screen patent,
No. 3,593,115, was issued to IBM on July 13, 1971,
but the stylus had to be wired to an output device. A
capacitive touch screen which reads finger position is disclosed in GE Patent No. 4,233,522 dated
November 11, 1980.
Then came gesture recognition.
IBM Patent No. 5,252,951 (October 12, 1993) is
entitled “Graphical User Interface with Gesture
Recognition in a Multiapplication Environment.”
Synaptics Inc. won Patent No. 5,543,591 in 1996 for
methods of recognizing a tap, double taps, and other
gestures on a touch screen.
That brings us to Apple’s Patent No. 7,469,381
(December 23, 2000) for the “slide to unlock” and
“bounce back” display features of the iPhone. This
was one of the patents used in the smart phone
patent wars along with design patents covering the
minimalist design of the iPhone touch screen.
Someday the touch screen may be fully superseded by voice recognition, finger or hand waving,
or even eye movement. All of these technologies, of
course, are already the subject of numerous patents
and pending patent applications.
An early voice recognition patent is No. 2,575,909
(1951). A recent eye tracker example is Google’s Patent No. 8,510,166. You wear glasses (Google Glass?)
with a video camera and an eye tracking camera.
Back at Google, they can tell what you fixate on in
each scene you come across. Scary.
Even scarier, read the mind-machine interface
patents like No. 7,187,967 by Neural Signals Inc.
The abstract of the patent reads, in part, “a system
and method for capturing a neural signal inside a
patient’s skull, transmitting it to a remote receiver,
and using it to control an application.” I wonder if it
works in reverse.
Sometime in the not too distant future, according
to futurist Ray Kurzweil, there will be no need for
any kind of computer interface because we will be
the computer and it will be us. Kurzweil now works
at Google. Is he right? Maybe.
I’m almost certain my children’s children will
not know what a keyboard is and their children will
probably only know of touch screens from visits to a
museum. Don’t touch! ME
KIRK TESKA is the managing partner of Iandiorio Teska & Coleman,
LLP, an intellectual property law firm in Waltham, Mass. He is the
author of Patent Project Management and Patent Savvy for Managers, and
is an adjunct law professor at Suffolk University Law School.
Touch screens and voice recognition are decades old.
Now, here come eye tracking and mind reading.
IT'S OK TO POINT
An early capacitive touch
screen that was sensitive
to pressure of a human