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The Devil's Advocate - Apple Patents Zooming Controller and Lighted Keyboards [TMO Scoop]
by - August 17th, 2004

Apple filed a patent application for a "Zooming controller" on February 22, 2002, which was issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as US Patent No. 6,778,195 on August 17, 2004. The application claims priority to an earlier application dating back to June 27, 2002. Daniel Scott Venolia is the inventor. The Abstract describes the invention:

The present invention allows the user to simultaneously select the scale while moving the range over different portions of the data field. Thus, the user can "zoom in" and "zoom out" of different portions of the data field.

The patent basically describes the zoom/slider mechanism that's used in iPhoto, although interestingly the patent shows the zoom tool being used as a general mechanism in several types of applications. Here are some pictures:

Images from Apple's patent application.

The patent notes that one the objectives of the zoomer is:

to increase the speed, accuracy, and selectivity of accessing data over a broad range by providing the user with easy and fluid interaction over varying magnification scales, while simultaneously providing the user with the capability of scanning the data at that magnification scale.

Also, Apple filed a patent application for "Apparatuses and methods for illuminating a keyboard" on November 19, 2002, which was issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as US Patent No. 6,776,497 on August 17, 2004. Brian Huppi, Thai La, and Walter Josephis Galbraith, Jr. are the inventors.

Apple is seemingly on a crusade to own all blinky light related technologies through patenting. To its credit, Apple acknowledges that other illuminated keyboards existed in the Background section of the patent, and is basically patenting its own improved implementation.

Various methods exist in the prior art for illuminating keyboards. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,179,432 by Zhang et al, contemplates a keyboard having an illumination panel inserted within the keyboard. The illumination panel in the keyboard in Zhang's patent is placed between the keycaps and metal plate of the keyboard. Such an addition of the illumination panel requires reconfiguration of the keyboard. Further, integrating the illumination panel into the keyboard by placing the illumination panel between the keycaps and the metal plate of the keyboard decreases the key travel of the keyboard, which can be referred to as the downward travel distance for each key in the keyboard. In order to maintain the same key travel, the keyswitch mechanism in the key-board has to be re-designed and as such, will result in an increase in the overall thickness of the key-board. Reconfiguration of the keyboard thus imposes more unnecessary cost to the making of the keyboard. Also, illuminating the keyboards using such conventional methods requires extra power which is not desirable.

Apple's implementation is rather clever in that it uses the PowerBook's screen backlighting as the light source for the keyboard as noted in the summary:

In a conventional computer system with a backlighting display system, some light emitted from the light source is typically wasted as the light escapes at the end of a light guide panel. The present invention, in one embodiment, utilizes the unused light or the escaped light that is not used in illuminating the display assembly…The light guide tubes capture the escaped or unused light that would escape…In one embodiment, the light guide tubes redirect the captured light so as to direct the light downward to illuminate the keyboard of the computer system.

Here are some pictures illustrating the effect:

More images from the patent application.

These are far from earth shattering patent filings. There are no sparkling new devices or eye candy user interface (UI) elements. You've definitely "been there, seen that, and done that." But it is interesting that Apple is patenting many of the little touches that make its technologies "special" and over time has been able to protect the look and feel of its operating system and hardware. Interestingly, Apple's DRM patents may even offer it some leverage against Real-like encroachment of its iPod and iTunes Music Store distribution arrangements.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if you really want to meet some of Apple's lawyers, then flattery may get you there.

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

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