Apple's iOS soft keyboard target of new patent lawsuit

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 14
Apple's vaunted iOS keyboard, a piece of user interface technology that helped usher in the smartphone revolution, is in infringement of a nearly 20-year-old patent covering similar input solutions, according to a new lawsuit.


Illustration of Higginson's "Universal keyboard." | Source: USPTO


Filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, a patent suit from Princeps Interface Technologies alleges Apple's keyboard infringes on the work of Timothy Higginson, a technology industry lawyer and inventor.

At issue is Higginson's U.S. Patent No. 6,703,963 for a "Universal keyboard."

Filed in 2002 and granted in 2004, the intellectual property covers a multifunctional input device in which a set of static keys are programmed to output command signals based on a plurality of functional modes. An example provided presents functional sets, or modes, relating to email, PDA, fax and internet inputs.

These modes are further divided into multi-level domains which, when selected, dynamically change the output model of the device's keys. For example, alphanumeric mode domains might display different sets of words, symbols or numbers, while domains in an internet navigator mode display URLs. Users can access more than one mode at any given time.

Other keys on the device are dedicated to traditional controls found on QWERTY keyboards. Patent language describes these keys as covering Esc, Alt, Ctrl, Shift, Caps Lock, Tab, Enter, Backspace and other typical inputs. A cursor control, in this case a joystick, is also offered.

According to the lawsuit, the '963 patent resolves "technical problems related to data input devices, and particularly, to problems related to the utilization of small profile data input devices." More specifically, the input device adapts the QWERTY keyboard for one-handed or two-thumb use.

Apple debuted its first onscreen keyboard for a portable device with iPhone in 2007. Offering basic functionality at launch, the UI has been refined over more than a decade to include advanced features like AI-powered predictive text, multi-function key support, gesture integration and more. Apple is slated to introduce a new swipe-to-type keyboard called QuickPath when iOS 13 and iPadOS see release this fall.

Princeps appears to be a non-practicing entity created for the sole purpose of leveraging Higginson's patents in court actions. The firm owns six properties invented by Higginson that were previously assigned to Yuvee, a tech consultancy and UI development firm he founded in 2004. While Yuvee holds active status in some third-party corporate databases, the company seemingly shuttered in 2016.

Princeps in its suit seeks damages and legal fees from Apple.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,051member
    Typical keyboard used on a variety of computer systems fir the last 40 years. How did he get a patent on this widely used input device?
  • Reply 2 of 22
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,597member
    The iPhone came out in 2007, and there were software keyboards before that IIRC. Where ya been, patent troll? Also, how is it that only Apple is in alleged violation when every smartphone out their copies the original iPhone keyboard? Oh right, deep pockets, I forgot ...
    jbdragonJWSCrandominternetpersonStrangeDays
  • Reply 3 of 22
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 575member
    The buttons in the illustration are physical switches. I don’t see why it would apply to a 2 dimensional image drawn on a screen. The concept is the same, but the implementation is completely different. 
    edited June 14 bageljoeycoolfactorjbdragonAppleExposedrandominternetpersonravnorodomMacQc
  • Reply 4 of 22
    Rey1953Rey1953 Posts: 1member
    Another patent troll that aims to milk Apple
    jbdragonAppleExposedStrangeDays
  • Reply 5 of 22
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,205unconfirmed, member
    You can't invent anything anymore.

    This type of news feeds the iKnockoff Knights and they'll claim Steve Jobs was hunting old patents to copy.
  • Reply 7 of 22
    neutrino23neutrino23 Posts: 1,529member
    rob53 said:
    Typical keyboard used on a variety of computer systems fir the last 40 years. How did he get a patent on this widely used input device?
    Exactly. We've had a bazillion different function key and on screen keyboard configurations since at least the 1960s. How did he get a patent for function keys? The only possibility I can imagine is that this patent is very narrowly defined. 

    We got attacked once like this. The guys was claiming a patent for something about using colors on a computer. At the time we'd had colors used in this particular way for decades. I ignored him. He kept sending nasty, threatening letters which the lawyer told us to ignore. Eventually he gave up. 

    I came up through engineering and science. I've come to find in the business world that there is a lot of bluster and BS flung about. If someone gives in and pays you then you win. You don't have to be right.

    By the way, wasn't Apple's first on-screen keyboard on the Newton? I didn't have one and couldn't confirm this by searching. Certainly the original Mac had an onscreen keyboard somewhere along the line for seeing which key combinations produce which character.
    genovelleDAalseth
  • Reply 8 of 22
    genovellegenovelle Posts: 967member
    rob53 said:
    Typical keyboard used on a variety of computer systems fir the last 40 years. How did he get a patent on this widely used input device?
    Exactly. We've had a bazillion different function key and on screen keyboard configurations since at least the 1960s. How did he get a patent for function keys? The only possibility I can imagine is that this patent is very narrowly defined. 

    We got attacked once like this. The guys was claiming a patent for something about using colors on a computer. At the time we'd had colors used in this particular way for decades. I ignored him. He kept sending nasty, threatening letters which the lawyer told us to ignore. Eventually he gave up. 

    I came up through engineering and science. I've come to find in the business world that there is a lot of bluster and BS flung about. If someone gives in and pays you then you win. You don't have to be right.

    By the way, wasn't Apple's first on-screen keyboard on the Newton? I didn't have one and couldn't confirm this by searching. Certainly the original Mac had an onscreen keyboard somewhere along the line for seeing which key combinations produce which character.
    There was an onscreen keyboard available at least since the first version of OS X. And definitely on Newton 
    AppleExposedcornchip
  • Reply 9 of 22
    firelockfirelock Posts: 156member
    Should be a ton of prior art fight this. First virtual keyboard that I can remember was in Tron, 1982. I know that Star Trek TNG also used them, not to mention Newton and Palm. But the problem is always less about the validity of the suit than it is about the fiscal decision as to whether it is cheaper/easier to settle than it is to fight the injustice.
  • Reply 10 of 22
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 652member
    From the article
    "the intellectual property covers a multifunctional input device in which a set of static keys are programmed to output command signals based on a plurality of functional modes"
    I think the critical words are "static keys". The patent drawing itself shows fixed physical keys that change function depending what is being done. iDevices have a touch screen with virtual keys that are generated and removed as needed. This suit should be fairly easy to get dismissed.
    edited June 15 randominternetpersontht
  • Reply 11 of 22
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,215member
    rob53 said:
    Typical keyboard used on a variety of computer systems fir the last 40 years. How did he get a patent on this widely used input device?
    How? The patent system is broken. It has been broken for decades. It was broken by the computer industry. No one in government has had the will to go against corporations to fix it.
    AppleExposed
  • Reply 12 of 22
    LordeHawkLordeHawk Posts: 158member
    I’m filling my patent on Monday, it covers letters like a, b, and c.....
    AppleExposedJWSC
  • Reply 13 of 22
    mystigomystigo Posts: 122member
    My understanding of parent law is that you patent a way to do something, not the actual something itself. These folks invented a way to input domain specific data from a static keyboard. Good for them! But Apple invented an entirely different way to input domain specific data using a glass screen with literally no static switches. You can patent a process but not an idea. Of course that won't matter one bit if it goes to the corrupt Eastern district in Texas.
    randominternetpersonStrangeDays
  • Reply 14 of 22
    Even if the patent seemed remotely related to the iPhone, there should be a rule against not pressing a patent claim within some reasonable time frame of being aware of the violation.  In this case, everyone on the planet has been aware of the iPhone for a decade or more, so there's no excuse.  This would be like if I implicitly let some dude camp in my front yard for 5 years and then sued him for 5 years of rent.
  • Reply 15 of 22
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,134member
    Reassigning functions of a keyboard where each physical key is labeled is not the same as an on-screen keyboard.

    Patent does not apply.  Case closed.  (One possibly way to defend this case.)

    Touch screens with keyboards are also prior art.  Any ATM has had this since the 80s.
  • Reply 16 of 22
    neutrino23neutrino23 Posts: 1,529member
    mystigo said:
    My understanding of parent law is that you patent a way to do something, not the actual something itself. These folks invented a way to input domain specific data from a static keyboard. Good for them! But Apple invented an entirely different way to input domain specific data using a glass screen with literally no static switches. You can patent a process but not an idea. Of course that won't matter one bit if it goes to the corrupt Eastern district in Texas.
    I think you mean method patents. Unless Apple copied every step exactly the patent doesn’t apply. That’s the purpose of writing a patent as broadly as possible. 

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_(patent)
    DAalseth
  • Reply 17 of 22
    CiprolCiprol Posts: 24member
    Patent law should encourage innovation but at this point in time, it's stifling ventures. With blocking patents like this and many many others, how is any new company to push out a new idea and product? The amount of royalty needed would kill any potential profit multiple times over, let alone any potential litigation cost and risks should one considers fighting the claim. It's crazy but to encourage venture developments and then flip it to a major corporation for patent defence.
  • Reply 18 of 22
    Definitely need some patent law reform.  This is crazy...
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 19 of 22
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,099member
    I'm very surprised that the patent in question was ever granted because the exact functionality, i.e. "a multifunctional input device in which a set of static keys are programmed to output command signals based on a plurality of functional modes" has been in use for more than 40 years in military human-machine interfaces, most notably the OJ-194 display console's computer controlled action entry panel (CCAEP) that's been in service in the US Navy's tactical data systems going back to the 1970s. In fact, this web page has a picture of a sailor interacting with the CCAEP with his left hand (https://cdn.ph.upi.com/pv/upi/61577c7b205bad4a63419efd32622cc2/VOL99030503.jpg).  Another implementation of the same functionality is used in NCR's RealPOS Dynakey point-of-sale terminals, the core technology of which dates back more than 20 years.


    edited June 16 randominternetperson
  • Reply 20 of 22
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,006member
    God software patents suck. Software is code and code is written and is already protected by copyright. Patents are for implementations, not ideas. Too many cases like this over nebulous ideas, not the implementation.  
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