The smartphone patent wars continue


March 24, 2010

Method and apparatus for controlling a computer system

Method and apparatus for controlling a computer system

AllThingsDigital brings news of yet another patent issued for technology we've been using for years. The patent, Method and apparatus for controlling a computer system, which was filed in June 2006 and granted last week, is shockingly broad - essentially describing any means of using an accelerometer to control a computer.

Unsurprisingly, it's not hard to find prior art on this one.

In early 2005, software engineer Amit Singh published his experiments using the motion sensor present in Apple PowerBooks as a human interface device (HID). Then in May 2006, Nintendo unveiled the motion controller for the Wii console at E3.

An AllThingsD commenter also points out a cracker - the accelerometer-based inertial navigation systems used in military hardware since the 1940s.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer, but doesn't the existence of the accelerometer itself represent prior art? The simple implementation an existing component shouldn't be grounds for a patent.

The interesting thing about this patent is that it hasn't been granted to Apple, HTC or anyone else you might be thinking of. The holder is Durham Logistics, a Las Vegas-based limited liability company that no one seems to know anything about.

The ramifications of this patent could be massive, with accelerometers present in just about every smartphone I can think of, and god knows how many other "computers" released in the last decade. We'll count this one as Exhibit Z in the case for patent reform, and keep you posted with further developments.

About the Author
Tim Hanlon Tim originally came to Gizmag as a developer, much to the dismay of anyone who had to maintain, build on, or rewrite his code. After wearing every other hat that didn't have a head for it, he became CEO in 2010. Outside Gizmag, he trains Muay Thai and plays too much Destiny. All articles by Tim Hanlon

All these patents on computers and cell phones are only adding cost to consumers and making technology advancement difficult and costly. I think that they need a working model or something to patent technology, ideas are fine but a patent they do not rate.

Gary Mullenhoff

And before long we´ll be paying for the air we breathe because someone patented the use of oxygen...


Its precisely these kind of off-the-cuff articles that create hate and discontent within the technology world with regard to patents. While I don\'t disagree that the claims appear broad, your analysis of the \"prior art\" leaves a little to be desired.

According to the patent document itself, priority can be traced back to 2001, well before the Wii made its first appearance in the market. As for military accelerometers, while the accelerometer itself may be known, all inventions to one degree or another rely on improving upon what is already known. The transistor itself could be described in the same cynical manner as \"just a few lumps of silicon wired together.\"

The problem amateurs make when talking about patents and inventions is that many of them seem \"obvious\" after the fact. Hindsight is 20/20 and there are restrictions on how the patent office can examine claims to avoid applying this kind of improper hindsight.

I can assure you that if a patent is truly shockingly bad, it will not survive attempts to enforce it.


I designed a revolving kite in 1987. I did not patent it, but it was on public sale from then on, and still is. In 2001, two Chinese men applied for a patent, using my exact design, which was granted by the U.S. patent office. I have been advised by this office that it would not be worth my while contesting the patent, even though as far as I understand, you cannot patent something that is in the public domain already.


If you read the Wikipedia article about the Glenn Curtiss \"June Bug\" which he flew in 1908: \"Amidst the publicity following the flight, the Wrights sent a warning to Curtiss that they had not given permission for the use of \"their\" aircraft control system to be used \"for exhibitions or in a commercial way\".

Do the Wright brothers heirs still get checks from every plane ever built? Of course not... some designs are just so inherently obvious and now ubiquitous, that no patent is required, nor should be approved.

Accelerometers measure movement, and control things. Duh.


Actually, if you read the patent claims the patent doesn\'t cover \"any means of using an accelerometer to control a computer\".

I\'ve just read claim 1 and it appears to specifically require an alternating movement (i.e. movement in one direction and then in a reverse direction) to control the computer.

So it doesn\'t cover single movements or movements in a first direction and then in another direction that is not the reverse of the first. So it doesn\'t cover most gesture controls. Also, it says both the back and forth movements have to be performed before the control signal is generated. So this means you could still move the device back and forth as long as that resulted in a control signal generated after the first movement.

It\'s actually a pretty limited claim and is really only designed to cover shake controls like on Sony\'s Walkmans. Sony can get around pretty easy by generating a control signal after the first movement.

That\'s my 2-cents. As with everything, the media exaggerates and distorts the truth to make people more emotional about it.

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