Hardware

Computer mouse evolution: Patent designs from the 1970s and 1980s

X-Y Position Indicator For A Display System

U.S. Patent number: 3,541,541
Filed: Jun 21, 1967
Issued: Nov 1970
Inventor: Douglas C. Engelbart
Assignee: Stanford Research Institute

Although the commercial mouse wouldn't make its debut until 1981, the venerable pointing device began its life much earlier. In 1967, Douglas C. Engelbart filed a patent for a device he called an "X-Y Position Indicator For A Display System."

The patent describes the devices as follows:

"An X-Y position indicator control for movement by the hand over any surface to move a cursor over the display on a cathode ray tube, the indicators control generating signals indicating its position to cause a cursor to be displayed on the tube at the corresponding position."

Image taken from U.S. Patent 3,541,541 - Digitized by Google

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

26 comments
Billsh
Billsh

Thanks Doug - Bill, former Product Manager, Logitech

wanxingda
wanxingda

professinal words, hard to read ...

panelshop
panelshop

Wico Corporation was possibly the largest manufacturer of OEM and after-market coin-op video and pinball game parts in the world. They produced several trackball assemblies for video games. The earliest codewheel/LED trackball I can remember was used on Atari's Football video game introduced in 1979. Another well known game with the trackball was Centipede, again by Atari. Cheers

todd.stockslager
todd.stockslager

I remember back in the late 80's when Lotus 1-2-3 was the killer app for accounting gurus, and the head of accounting for the mid-sized electric utility where I worked came to IT with an ad for a Lotus macro mouse which had on top of the body a full calculator keypad and a bunch of programmable function buttons for storing Lotus 1-2-3 macros. The thing was about the size of a brick! By the time we had stopped laughing he had crawled back to his office in embarrassment, so I don't think he ever did buy the thing. I wish I could remember the brand or model of that thing and find a picture of it.

CodeCurmudgeon
CodeCurmudgeon

In 1982 at my first long term full time job, we had a couple of 24 inch square digitizers with mice, and they had been installed a year or two earlier. They reported the precise position of the mouse to a fraction of a millimeter. The mice even had cross hairs for precise positioning. IIRC they were made by Summagraphics and used magnetostrictive delay line technology. While they did not normally continuously report their position like a modern mouse, that mode was available.

cliff
cliff

We have a propensity for clinging to things because of how "familiar" they have become, regardless of how outdated they may be. The automobile comes to mind. (I can only imagine that Mr. Ford would think us a bunch of unimaginitive dullards for still utilizing his turn-of-the-century invention) Still, it's difficult to imagine a device that would offer the same degree of control and speed that a mouse offers. I foresee pointing devices controlled via eye-movement or brainwaves, but it's not something I'll be getting for Father's Day any time soon. As a side note, I can't imaging why optical mice took such a long hibernation. My favorite pointing device was an optical mouse that came with my 16Mhz 386SX that I purchased from Sperry Univac. Best pointer I had ever used. Why they disappeared for decades before resurfacing is a mystery to me.

glenstorm_98
glenstorm_98

There's another category of mouse/puck not represented here: the one used by Wacom in conjunction with their tablets. I have a 12x12 tablet that came with a mouse. Because it uses the tablet as a mousing surface, it has the ability to determine absolute position, like some of the designs shown in this article, but also through software it can be run in a 'relative mode' that just looks at the deltas and calculates position change. I'm not familiar with exact technology used for this one, but it has no moving parts, so is extremely reliable. It also provides power to the mouse from the surface of the tablet, so it requires no batteries in the mouse itself. Personally, I think it's a really neat design in many respects (even though I seldom use it, since the tablet is large and clumsy. Of course, they do make smaller tablets, but I wanted the resolution of the larger one.)

bitdoctor
bitdoctor

[I think iris-tracking + brain wave technology may eventually replace the mouse - especially as computers become more like VR Glasses / Visors.] And don't forget the 'cat' - no, seriously! In my days at the Pentagon - 1987-ish to 1990, I had to convert documents from some old Xerox CP/M Word processing systems, via my custom-written 'c' program, into a format compatible with Windows. At the time, I found that, to my surprise, there was indeed a 'cursor-tracking device' called a 'cat' - now, I'm guessing that both devices might have been playfully named to counter one another (clearly, the computer mouse 'looks' like a mouse). I want to say that the 'cat' was a "track ball" of sorts, if my fuzzy memory isn't failing me. Aside from a track ball, the other things I am remembering were a rectangular key which, when pressed, depending on 'where' pressed (top, bottom, left, right), would move the cursor in the direction pressed; and also it seems like there was a very early model of "touch pad."

doneill07
doneill07

Apple was a hardware manufacturing company... Microsoft was not. I love 'em both!! They both keep me employed!!

knorseth
knorseth

You forgot about Honeywell's mouse that had feet. it was evolutionary because it could work on any surface where a ball mouse would not.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Xerox corporation - as in Palo Alto Research Center. Windows was NOT the beginning of point-and-click; it had already been around for years.

bitdoctor
bitdoctor

In my days at the Pentagon - 1987-ish to 1990, I had to convert documents from some old Xerox CP/M Word processing systems, via my custom-written 'c' program, into a format compatible with Windows. At the time, I found that, to my surprise, there was indeed a 'cursor-tracking device' called a 'cat' - now, I'm guessing that both devices might have been playfully named to counter one another (clearly, the computer mouse 'looks' like a mouse). I want to say that the 'cat' was a "track ball" of sorts, if my fuzzy memory isn't failing me. Aside from a track ball, the other things I am remembering were a rectangular key which, when pressed, depending on 'where' pressed (top, bottom, left, right), would move the cursor in the direction pressed; and also it seems like there was a very early model of "touch pad."

glehr
glehr

Lets not forget about iris tracking. that would be a great replacement for a position mouse, just follow with your eyes where you want to go. but no more blank stares at the screen.

yobtaf
yobtaf

That's ancient history.

Thack
Thack

"Windows was NOT the beginning of point-and-click; it had already been around for years." Who on earth said it was? Some DOS applications had mouse support before Windows even existed. So whom are you arguing that point with?

Chug
Chug

Windows wasn't even 2nd to the punch. Steve Jobs got much of the mouse and GUI interface idea from Xerox to put in the Macintosh. (I'm not sure if he actually bought any patents or anything from Xerox, but at the very least he had visited Xerox and seen the demonstrations and used the information.) Then Windows took off from that.

bboswell
bboswell

how much money any of these patent holders sees today, since mice are all made at some factory in China as cheaply as possible? Do you think anyone is paying royalties on any of these patents?

coolmark82
coolmark82

I have 3 different possibilities of technologies that will replace the mouse, but it seems that instead that these three will replace certain technologies in a certain order. 1. The touch screen will replace the mouse in 2014, once everyone gets used to it. 2. The holographic touch screen will replace the physical touch screen around 2030-2040. 3. The neural node interface will partially replace the holographic keyboard, as some may not want to control computers with their minds, others may want to type the old fashioned way. 4. Eventually, voice command might replace everything,

yobtaf
yobtaf

Did you see "The Minority Report"? That was not completely fiction. Imaginary Forces (a graphic design and media company http://www.imaginaryforces.com/) was hired to design the display GUI. They brought in a man (I never got his name) to advise them on the technology. He had developed a lot of the tools already. The interesting thing is that during the production two men in black (actually they were from some government agency) approached him with money to fund his research. A year or so later the said they didn't need him anymore but allowed him to keep everything he developed up to that time. I alway assumed that they didn't need him because they found something better. Anyway, voice and gesture recognition have been around for a while now and there is some game development that uses brain waves (I think that is the right term). Buy the way, my story is completely true. Don't be fooled by the tinfoil hat.

DNSB
DNSB

I seem to remember that Apple traded the right to purchase some pre-IPO stock for the chance to study Xerox's GUI and interface work, notably as implemented in the Alto computer. Unfortunately for Xerox, they promptly dumped the stock since those personal computers were just a flash in the pan.

lynettema
lynettema

At the time Xerox was doing most of the research but IBM had instituted some of the initial findings. When those became available, Xerox took over and ran with it, then true to their usual methods Windows came in and worked up the main schematics later.

pctech326
pctech326

Gates and Jobs had both visited Xerox PARC. The mouse and GUI ideas were used initially on the Lisa - the Mac was developed later.

bowenw
bowenw

Remember the Clint Eastwood movie "Firefox" where Clint could control the Russian fighter plane by thinking what he wanted to do (remember the famous line where he was thinking in English, then realized that was why the plane did not respond - he had to "Think in Russian"). I'll bet at some point this will be done for real - maybe not with airplanes at first but it would be a nifty replacement for the keyboard & mouse.

dan
dan

Having been a support engineer for some of the hardware used in projects like this - you'll find some very interesting reading after a Google search on my title......