RealTime IT News

Microsoft Wins Patent for Scroll Mouse

Chalk up another technology innovation for the folks in Redmond: Microsoft has patented a scroll mouse.

The software giant was awarded U.S. patent 6,700,564 on March 2 for an "Input device including a wheel assembly for scrolling an image in multiple directions."

The new twist in the invention appears to be the addition of horizontal scrolling alongside the traditional vertical scrolling capabilities that are common in scrolling devices.

Outlining the horizontal feature, the document noted: "The rotatable member is laterally moveable relative to the housing. A sensor is preferably positioned within the housing for sensing lateral movement of the rotatable member. In response to sensed lateral movement, the image is horizontally scrolled, preferably in the direction of the lateral movement."

The drawings included with the patent show an external view of what looks like a garden variety mouse. An exploded internal drawing shows a small scroll wheel mounted on an axle that has some horizontal "wiggle room." If the user's thumb pushes the wheel slightly to the left of right, it touches a sensor which can be used to measure lateral movement. A controller coupled to the sensor generates a signal to scroll the pointed-to image across the display.

In the patent's detailed write-up, Microsoft emphasizes the utility of the horizontal feature. "In operation, a conventional scroll wheel is normally rotated about a first, transversely extended axis secured within a housing in order to scroll the image up and down (vertically) relative to the display screen.

"However, many types of documents, such as spreadsheets, are usually wider than the width of the display screen and the user may want to scroll horizontally across the screen to see the entire file. When the user needs to move the image horizontally across the display screen, the user must typically stop what he or she is doing and perform a number of tedious and potentially frustrating steps.

These include locating a graphical user interface in the form of a horizontal scroll bar, positioning the cursor on the scroll bar, and then rotating the wheel, Microsoft said. The patent information also said this can be a cumbersome process that's "very difficult for people with bad eyesight or poor hand-eye coordination."

In contrast, Microsoft continued, "the present invention makes it easy for a user to scroll an image both horizontally and vertically relative to a display screen without repositioning [the mouse]. Additionally, the different types of wheel movements used by the present invention to cause scrolling in the perpendicular directions eliminate problems and frustrations that may result from using the prior art devices."

In this case, "Prior art devices" refers to an earlier mouse design. Microsoft points out that Microside Corp. of Miami, Fla., made a "Micro Scroll II" mouse, which also implemented control of horizontal movement. However, that mouse had two wheels, which might be considered more cumbersome than Microsoft's single-wheel solution.

The original mouse was invented by Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s. It was made practical by Xerox at its famed Palo Alto Research Center.

Microsoft has a previous patentnumber 5,912,661, granted on June 15, 1999which is distantly related to its current invention. The 1999 patent is entitled "Z-encoder mechanism." It discusses a wheel mounted near microswitches, which can be used to deliver positional information.

The new Microsoft mouse patent was filed on April 30, 2001. (The Microsoft inventors named on the patent application are Hugh McLoone and James Cauthorn.)

Reached at Microsoft, spokesman Jim Desler said: "It's not our policy to comment beyond the patent application itself."

Microsoft is has historically moved aggressively to patent its technology. Last month, it received a patent on XML technology.

The latest patent arrives just months after Microsoft announced it would provide expanded access to its intellectual property (IP) portfolio under a new licensing policy that includes royalty-bearing terms (and an expansion of royalty-free access) for the company's portfolio, which includes over 4,000 patents (with others pending).

During its 2004 fiscal year, Microsoft is expected to spend just under $7 billion in its R&D division.