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Joystick Port Patented, Now the Lawsuit 222

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the no-no-the-system-is-fine dept.
Panaqqa writes "It appears that Fenner Investments, a Texas based patent troll, is at it again. This time, they are suing Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo for infringing a patent they hold on joystick ports. Perhaps they felt they needed a "Plan B" now that their lawsuit against Juniper Networks, Nokia, Cisco, Alcatel and Ericsson is not going so well."
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Joystick Port Patented, Now the Lawsuit

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  • by baffled (1034554) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:34AM (#17538206)
    It's probably the best bet for patent reform to be taken seriously.
    • Prior art? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:52AM (#17538454) Homepage
      I don't know the exact circuit details but Commodore Amiga joysticks worked in a similar way, i.e. by timing the decay of a capacitor rather then using an a/d converter.

      • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Smidge204 (605297) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:09AM (#17538626) Journal
        Right now, it only seems that these cases will show if the accused party actually infringes on the patent or not.

        What we need, as part of patent reform, is the ability to call BS on a patent during these lawsuits, which puts the infringement claim on hold until the patent itself is reviewed and debated over. Start a seperate court case to review the patent, with both parties able to produce evidence and expert testimony about the technology in question. If the patent is ruled bogus, then it should be invalidated on the spot and the infringement suit dropped.

        That would cull a lot of bogus patents and maybe discourage filing them in the first place.
        =Smidge=
        • Re:Prior art? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:26AM (#17538870) Journal
          Good idea. Remember, it's harder to defend a court order preventing a technology from being distributed if the only damages are loss of revenue, which is easy to correct later if it turns out it really infringes a patent. In other words, a "patent"holder will never ABSOLUTELY need the infringement to stop RIGHT NOW.

          Also, it would be nice if a patent could be voided on the grounds that it was deliberately worded to obscure similarity to prior art.
        • by kansas1051 (720008) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:32AM (#17538950)
          What we need, as part of patent reform, is the ability to call BS on a patent during these lawsuits, which puts the infringement claim on hold until the patent itself is reviewed and debated over. Start a seperate court case to review the patent, with both parties able to produce evidence and expert testimony about the technology in question. If the patent is ruled bogus, then it should be invalidated on the spot and the infringement suit dropped.

          The U.S. Patent Office has such a procedure -- its called "reexamination." "Inter parties" reexamination allows two parties (the patentee and an accused infringer) to "reexamine" a patent before the USPTO in view of new prior art. If the USPTO agrees with the accused infringer, it can invalidate the patent. Lawsuits regarding patents in reexamination are commonly stayed (i.e. put on hold) until the reexamination terminates.

          Reexams often result in dubious patents being invalidated. The reason you do not read about them more often on /. is that the purported prior art is often grossly exaggerated by the accused infringer (as in the RIM/NTP patent case), so there may not actually be sufficient grounds to invalidate the patent.

        • Re:Prior art? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Zordak (123132) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:39AM (#17539048) Homepage Journal
          If you are sued for patent infringement, your attorney will file a motion for summary judgment, and one of the theories will be that the patent is invalid as a matter of law. If it fails as a summary judgment motion, it will go before the jury. The validity of the patent WILL get litigated if the case doesn't settle. Forcing the parties to put off litigating infringement until after they settle the validity of the patent would be ridiculously inefficient and more costly for BOTH parties. The problem is not the inability to challenge the validity of a patent in court. The problem is that obviousness under 35 U.S.C. s. 103 has become such a hyper-technical non-hurdle that it is nearly impossible to invalidate a patent once it has been judged novel. Until we revise section 103 to strengthen obviousness, this will continue to happen. Fortunately, the weak obviousness standard is hurting big, monied companies with powerful lobbies (like Microsoft and Sony). So you can bet things are going to change.
          • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Informative)

            by thebdj (768618) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:01AM (#17539352) Journal
            Actually, I would argue that it is not the laws faults. At least not the way it is written. As written, 35 USC 103 explains obviousness in relatively good terms. Obviousness did not become an issue until relatively recently. I will not fault SCOTUS in Graham v. Deere, because the requirements they set forth were not very restrictive. The issue came later when the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) including the requirement that the joining of the two items must be taught in the prior art.

            This is an extremely rare thing and actually makes the requirement hard to fulfill. It actually limited the Graham Factor, "one of ordinary skill in the art," practically eliminating it. I do not think the CAFC truly thought this out before making a decision, because if you already the idea to combine the two technologies (and mention as much in your patent specification) then you would almost certainly have claimed it, which would make it a 35 USC 102 violation, something that is really easier to defend for a Patent Examiner.

            I believe we are still waiting to see the end result of KSR v. Teleflex before SCOTUS. If SCOTUS rules with KSR and essentially says the CAFC over-stepped their bounds, then you could be looking at the mass invalidation of thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of patents. You mention the standard is hurting Microsoft and Sony, but it actually is helping another industry with as much if not more money. The pharamaceuticals and bio-tech companies love the standard as it is because it helps them get a lot of patents on new drugs passed. I believe if you review the documents from KSR v. Teleflex, you will find support for KSR's writ from a group that included Microsoft, while the big pharma's filed in opposition (supporting Teleflex).
          • Re:Prior art? (Score:4, Informative)

            by sribe (304414) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:16PM (#17540614)
            If you are sued for patent infringement, your attorney will file a motion for summary judgment, and one of the theories will be that the patent is invalid as a matter of law. If it fails as a summary judgment motion, it will go before the jury. The validity of the patent WILL get litigated if the case doesn't settle. Forcing the parties to put off litigating infringement until after they settle the validity of the patent would be ridiculously inefficient and more costly for BOTH parties.

            Actually, the process developed by the patent court was that a granted patent was assumed to be valid until proved otherwise, therefore what would in fact happen is that if the evidence that you infringed was strong enough, regardless of possible invalidity of the patent, the court would enjoin you from distributing your product while the case was heard!!! This is why RIM settled with NTP, remember? Of course there was a case at the Supreme Court at that time challenging the patent court's ridiculous procedure, and SCOTUS slapped down the patent court just a couple of days after RIM paid off NTP. And now new cases will proceed rather more like you describe.

            And as a post a few down from yours points out, there is currently a case before SCOTUS that may result in restoring sanity to the evaluation of prior art and non-obviousness...
      • Re:Prior art? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Emil Brink (69213) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:25AM (#17538844) Homepage
        Clarification: the Amiga analog joysticks worked like that, yes. The default joystick used on the Amiga was digital, though, and just used five (later more) switches to generate the up/down/left/right/fire signals. :)
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by pipatron (966506)
        Clarification 2: Timing the decay of the stored charge in capacitor is an A/D-converter.
      • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Informative)

        by MoxFulder (159829) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:21PM (#17540700) Homepage
        The "game port" joysticks for old x86 boxes worked the exact same way! The joystick axis was basically a variable resistor, and its position would vary the time constant of an RC circuit. The voltage would drain at a rate dependent on the joystick position, and you used a do-nothing timing loop to wait for the voltage to fall past a threshold and flip a bit.

        I remember trying to learn to program the PC joystick in assembly language around 1993, and it was a real pain in the ass to get it right. You had to constantly poll the joystick and put in all kinds of delay loops. Apparently, proper analog-to-digital converters were very expensive when the PC game port was designed, and so this crude circuit design was used instead. See the wikipedia article for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_port#Circuits [wikipedia.org]

        Bottom line: this patent ain't new technology. In fact, it's OBSOLETE technology. There are much better ways to get an analog measurement from a joystick, and there were even in 1998 when the patent was filed.
    • Since 'Mutually Assured Destruction' doesn't work when defending against a patent troll (they don't produce anything that can infringe your patents), maybe it would be a start to limit the maximum amount of awarded damages to $5M (for example.) If a patent of a legitimate inventor is ever infringed by some big business, the settlement is more than enough for them to retire and continue inventing if they so choose. Wouldn't it however remove the incentive for trolls, spending easily as much as $5M in the hop
      • by TheThiefMaster (992038) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:20AM (#17538790)
        Except that that would mean that companies that could afford $5M easily could intentionally infringe on as many patents as they liked, even drawing the legal battle out long enough to bankrupt the holder.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AndersOSU (873247)
        That basically gives big business free reign to steal any technology that could be valued at more than $5 million - which is damn near any patent that is worth holding (and a lot that aren't). Now, I know some people on /. call for the total elimination of the patent system, but this probably wouldn't be the best way to kill it.

        <pedant>when talking about money M usually means thousand, and MM million.</pendant>
        • by fotbr (855184)
          when talking about money M usually means thousand, and MM million.

          True for parts of the world, but not other parts.
      • by stiggle (649614)
        Instead of limiting the awarded damages, get the patent holder to put up a bond of a few million per target when they lodge the case. It should limit them a bit if they loose a few million every time they lodge a troll case.
    • by devnull17 (592326)
      I've been hearing that argument for years. In the meantime, company after company is paying out settlements in the hundreds of millions. I think it's time to try something a little more direct.
  • I'd like to see (Score:4, Insightful)

    by p51d007 (656414) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:36AM (#17538234)
    someone sue the lawyers bringing up these lawsuits...since they are driving us nuts, and crippling businesses. If there ever was a need for "looser pays" it's because of crap like this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kalirion (728907)
      Quite often the lawyers are only the "weapons" in these cases. It's the clients that need to be sued. Of course there are plenty of cases where the lawyers are the instigators of the BS (looking at you, Jack Thompson)....
    • Frequently the politicians making these laws are lawyers themselves. Good luck getting any tort reform passed with them.
  • Patent Troll list (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pr0nbot (313417) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:37AM (#17538248)
    Wikipedia page on Patent Trolls, with a list that doesn't appear to include the trolls in question guys:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_troll [wikipedia.org]
  • And.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by El Lobo (994537)
    people wonder why does Microsoft patent things... Here ladies and Gentllemen, you have the answer. If you have deep pockets, you better defend yourself.
  • by popo (107611)

    Haven't poor Microsoft and Sony been vicimized enough?

    How's a poor ruthless-megacorporation supposed to make a buck these days?
  • Prior Art anyone? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zeek40 (1017978) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:41AM (#17538320)
    The patent was applied for in 1998, I believe the first atari consoles had joysticks in the late 70s, and I'm sure there are earlier examples. The only thing that the patent application seems to have going for it is the specific use of CMOS fabrication for the circuit. This seems to me like making a keyboard out of metal/wood/some other material not usually used, then trying to patent it. Am I missing something, or will this lawsuit go just as well as their previous one?
    • They're using an integrated circuit to read the voltage differentials, instead of the more common 'clock + voltage comparator'. So yes, I would say this falls under prior art, being that their chip does pretty much what the gameport logic has done since its introduction. And if it doesn't fail on prior art, it fails on the 'obvious' clause.
    • The patent was applied for in 1998, I believe the first atari consoles had joysticks in the late 70s

      This device seems to be for connecting an analog joystick to a digital input by converting the analog postion into a PWM digital signal. It's an analog joystick with the A/D and encoder built-in. Perhaps an incremental improvement, at best. I suppose it eliminates the need to have the A/D hardware on the console itself, so the connection can be all digital (and have fewer pins). You could even retrofit

      • If they really are the first to come up with this particular scheme, then maybe they have a claim.

        It's possible they come up with something unique that hadn't been done before. But if it was that unique, how did all three companies manage to have it standard by now? Especially since the big differences between this generation's controllers and last involve wireless (Wii's wired controllers are Gamecube controllers), so if the newest consoles infringe, the last have to infringe as well (since the ports ar

        • Well the Nintendo 64 came out in 1996 and it definetly had an analogue joystick (Nintendo 64 [wikipedia.org]) and it only had three pins for the joystick connection. I would be highly surprised if that was using an analogue connection to the console. Given that and the fact that any research and development was being done prior to the release (duh!), this further invalidates the claim to this patent.
      • by honkycat (249849)
        If they really are the first to come up with this particular scheme, then maybe they have a claim.
        Except I'm pretty certain they didn't develop the concept of using a circuit like that to convert an analog signal into a digital PWM signal. If they invented that, then I wouldn't dispute the patent-worthiness. However, merely applying someone else's analog-to-PWM circuit to joysticks doesn't seem to me to meet the non-obviousness criterion.
        • Except I'm pretty certain they didn't develop the concept of using a circuit like that to convert an analog signal into a digital PWM signal. If they invented that, then I wouldn't dispute the patent-worthiness. However, merely applying someone else's analog-to-PWM circuit to joysticks doesn't seem to me to meet the non-obviousness criterion.

          I don't think the Analog position/PWM conversion is the real meat of the infringement claim -- you're correct, that's been in use long before 1998. The cleverness he

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by honkycat (249849)
            Perhaps clever, but again I'm skeptical that they were the first to use the PWM into a digital input scheme, largely because their claim is so narrow. If they were the first to realize you can use the PWM signal with a digital-only input line, then there's no doubt you can patent that alone. Since they restrict it as an application for a joystick (and since this was 1998), my gut tells me they took a known technique and patented the specific application.
  • by sesshomaru (173381) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:43AM (#17538336) Journal
    Hey, remember when Universal Studios tried to sue Nintendo for infringing on their copyright on King Kong? And then Nintendo won the case, and proved that Universal didn't even hold the copyright on King Kong in the first place?

    Good times, good times....

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rucs_hack (784150)
      I believe the primary reason they lost that case is that Universal had in fact argued in a previous case that they did not own the rights to king kong. Not sure of the particulars of the case though.
    • by kalirion (728907) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:40AM (#17539062)
      Hehe, hadn't heard of this before, so looked it up [wikipedia.org]. Pretty amusing case, thanks for bringing it up!
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
        lol, it gets pretty silly at points. From Wikipedia:

        In its decision on October 4, 1984, the court upheld the previous verdict. They declared that "The two properties [King Kong and Donkey Kong] have nothing in common but a gorilla, a captive woman, a male rescuer, and a building scenario." Further, the court ruled that "The 'Kong' and 'King Kong' names are widely used by the general public and are associated with apes and other objects of enormous proportions."

        Glad we got that cleared up ...

  • I can't work out what the patent is actually for. Even the abstract is a little vague apart from telling me it's some sort of analogue joystick interface.
    • I did read TFP, and it looks to be a retrofit type device to allow use of analog joystick on a digital joystick port by modulating the joystick position on a digital (button press?) signal. I think it's only for consoles that don't have analog ports already. Newer systems that implement all functions on a USB connection would not apply here.
  • very creative (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jon Luckey (7563) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:49AM (#17538414)
    prior art-ish Applie IIe circuit

    http://web.pdx.edu/~heiss/technotes/aiie/tn.aiie.0 6.html [pdx.edu]

    Whoopie.

    Because Fenner's patent used a tristate buffer instead of an open collector NPN transitor they own this kind of joystick?

    geesh.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gmarsh (839707)
      Precisely. I read the patent, and it describes *exactly* the operation of a 556 timer based PC game port. The only unique thing that I can spot in this patent is listed on the first page - "This implementation provides a joystick port which uses low-voltage CMOS VLSI structures..."

      So to get definite prior art, you just need to find a soundcard with a standard 0x201 gameport address, with the game port hardware implemented in a CMOS ASIC. Which is really easy, considering the patent was filed for in 1998. Ev
  • by rongage (237813) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:54AM (#17538482)

    As near as I can tell from the text of the patent, this patent troll has patented the use of an Analog to Digital Convertor for converting the analog output of a joystick into a digital signal. I'm not 100% certain but it sounds like either an integrator type circuit or a PWM type circuit. The intriguing bit is the mentioned use of a VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) chip as a part of the design. This could mean utilizing any of the large fabric chips from the likes of Altera, TI, or Lord knows how many others are in the market nowadays. Heck, this could be interpreted to include the PIC chips in common use nowadays.

    I'd have to look in my old college electronics book (Electronic Communications - vol 5 by Schrader) to see, but I think these types of ADC circuits were discussed even back then (circa 1985). If not, I know the Peavey DECA series of digital power amplifiers (circa 1988) utilized an integrator type ADC for doing converting the analog audio signal to a series of digital pulses (PWM) used for driving the MOSFET finals.

    • by mikael (484)
      Analogue to Digitial circuits were around in the late 1970's - The Atari console system supported paddle controllers [atariage.com].
    • As near as I can tell from the text of the patent, this patent troll has patented the use of an Analog to Digital Convertor for converting the analog output of a joystick into a digital signal. I'm not 100% certain but it sounds like either an integrator type circuit or a PWM type circuit.

      I believe that's exactly what it does. That's not novel. What could be novel is that they seem to be putting the PWM signal on a button input to the console, giving a game with the ability to read the PWM as a joystick

  • by RobK (24783) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @09:57AM (#17538504)
    The fact that these non-novel, obvious patents with prior art are being issued decades after first use.

    I understand that business need to protect themselves, and I'm a lot more forgiving of hardware patents (because that make sense) but reading the patent all I see that MIGHT be new is the power saving circuitry rather than a novel joystick connection.

    They do need more examiners and the second patent applied for each year should cost twice as much as the first to file. (This would curb blanketing the system hoping that one of them sticks).

    This is my theory and it's mine.

  • by gozar (39392) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:02AM (#17538546) Homepage

    Their patent applies to analog joysticks. It's a method of sending the information of a joystick's position as a digital pulse, therefore requiring less wiring for multiple analog sticks and buttons. The controller could send the information about the various states of the buttons and joysticks encoded as a digital stream.

    Unfortunately for them, they applied for the patent in '98, long after the N64 was released. I don't know for sure, but since the N64 controller only has (IIRC) 3 wires in the cable, they must be using something like what this patent describes.

    It's interesting that they applied for the patent two months after the release of the dual-shock controller for the PS1. IMO, someone saw the dual shock and patented the idea on how it would work.

  • These people give Texans a bad name. Is there any way I can mail these creeps a bushel of rotten tomatoes? I probably live too far away to throw them myself.
  • Fixing the system (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bcharr2 (1046322) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:17AM (#17538742)
    You would think it was possible to put our nations academic institutions into the patent review loop.

    Company applies for patent, patent judge receives comments from university departments focused on that type of technology, judge reviews comments to verify if this is a revolutionary new idea worth granting a patent to or not.

    I also liked the suggestion that the cost of patenting scale up the more patents one files within a given timeframe. This should keep a company from essentially conducting a "denial of patent review" attack by filing so many similar patents that the academics will simply give up participating in the system.

    I would also like to see some sort of financial pentalty applied to corporations who attempt to patent existing work. In this case, if the court finds the patent should never have been granted, I would accompany the dismissal of their lawsuit with a hefty fine. Force companies to conduct solid research instead of just filing some paperwork and seeing what they can slip through the system.

    • Company applies for patent, patent judge receives comments from university departments focused on that type of technology, judge reviews comments to verify if this is a revolutionary new idea worth granting a patent to or not.

      I agree that better examination is required, even perhaps by peer review. However, patents (in any nation at any time) have never been reserved for "revolutionary" inventions (novel and non-obvious is the U.S. standard). The reason for this is simple -- it is often impossible for ev

    • by Infinityis (807294) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:27AM (#17539738) Homepage
      Actually, it might work to just stipulate the award money in advance, and then whichever side loses the patent suit would be required to pay out that amount to the winner. If you *know* that your patent is being infringed and that it will hold up, then go for the big dollars because they are rightly yours. However, if there is even a shadow of a doubt that there might be prior art or something else that would invalidate your patent, then patent trolls will think twice before adding a few zeros to the damages they seek.

      The fundamental problem is that the potential cost of losing is so low that it is becoming commoditized, which is why we're starting to see patents being bought and sold in bulk.
    • by tgd (2822)
      You do realize that universities produce a huge number of patents every year... and their endowments often depend on the licensing fees for them?
  • USB (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RancidMilk (872628)
    I believe that my usb port works as a joystiq port on my computer. So I believe that usb is the next to go.
  • I don't get it. This looks like the description of a standard Atari game controller port (from the late 70s), except, instead of TTL voltages, they're using CMOS voltages. I think a change like this would be obvious to a layman in the field. Heck, I have little to do with electronics, yet I could have come up with this.

    Doesn't mean that they can't harrass and shake down a few companies. But it seems like an awfully weak claim.
  • Prior Art circa 1977 (Score:2, Informative)

    by pcjunky (517872)
    This exact circuit was used in the Apple II in 1977. Copied by IBM in the IBM PC in 1981. May have been used prior to this. This circuit is so common they had to know that this was used many years ago. If I were a defendant in this case I would counter sue claiming they knowingly patented something that was in common use without disclosing the prior art just so they could intimidate companies. This a fraud on the patent office!
  • Join the USPTO! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by blckbllr (242654)
    Y'know, a lot of the posts in this comment section seem to be of the type "well, there's this prior art out there so there's no way a patent should have issued!"

    That being said, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the patent examiner to determine whether or not the claims of the patent are indeed patentable (useful, novel, nonobvious, etc.). However, don't blame the patent examiner. These poor souls are overworked and underpaid, and the backlog for many applications awaiting examination nowadays are i
  • There is Prior Art (Score:3, Informative)

    by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2.earthshod@co@uk> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:01PM (#17540354)
    This patent is null and void: there is Prior Art which invalidates it.

    Back in the 1970s - 1980s, 8-bit computers used to measure the resistance of a joystick potentiometer using this setup:

    One end of the joystick pot (VR1) is connected to the main logic supply voltage (1). The slider (3) is connected to a capacitor (C1). The other terminal of the capacitor is earthed. The junction (3) of the variable resistance and capacitor is connected via a safety resistance (R1) to a logic input (4) on IC1. An open-collector logic output is also connected to this input. To take a reading the O/C output is driven low to discharge C1, then allowed to float. At some later moment in time, the capacitor will have charged to the point where the voltage at (4) exceeds its input threshhold and the input will read as a "1". By measuring the time which elapses between the forcible discharging of C1 and the triggering of the input, we can determine the unknown resistance between (1) and (3), and thus the position of the joystick.

    Even the IBM PC used this technique when a joystick port was added! Right up to the days when USB became standard for PC joysticks, every PC had a 15-pin DIN connector (colour: mustard) with four such inputs plus some switch inputs. The Atari 9-pin DIN joystick port (which would eventually go on to become a de facto standard) featured two resistance inputs which were normally used by the paddle controllers, but (because, if fitted with a simple pull-up resistance and the O/C output is left open, they are switch inputs) became the extra mouse buttons on the Amiga. All this was done long enough ago that, had any patent ever covered it (which is frankly pretty unlikely; the idea of determining an unknown resistance by using it in an oscillator and measuring the period of said oscillator should be obvious to anyone who knows how to wire a 13 amp plug, let alone an "expert" in the field), it would certainly have expired by now.

    The circuit goes something like this;

    * 1970s-style Joystick Port
    * Node 1 is +5 Volts
    VR1 1 2 3 POT100K
    C1 3 0 0.1U
    R1 3 4 1K
    * Node 4 is a logic input tied to an O/C output
    IC1 ..... 4 .....
    Note also that this method was not universal. The BBC computer used a 12-bit A-D converter (mapped to the upper 12 bits of a two-byte word), with the tracks of the pots between a reference supply and ground; the Dragon 32 used a 6-bit ADC formed from a DAC (also used, via an analogue DUX, for cassette and audio output!) and comparator.
  • by szembek (948327) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:16PM (#17540620) Homepage
    We need a 'use it or lose it' mentality to patents. If you patent a new type of mouse and it's 7 years later and somebody else is selling these mice and you haven't done shit with yours... then too bad so sad. This will eliminate these patent trolls.
  • Nitnendo has patents on all there ports and connecters so how would this tandup against that ?
  • Bring 'em on (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tji (74570) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:29PM (#17540860)
    This is good stuff.. Patent trolls don't have the kind of money needed to buy congressmen. And, the deep pocketed companies they are after surely do. So, hopefully this continues, and those big companies get the congressmen they control to reform the patent system.
  • Jeez people were using joysticks in the 70's.
  • Airforce... (Score:4, Funny)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:40PM (#17541060)
    They should sue the US Airforce for using joysticks in fighter planes. Maybe some pilot will get angry and press the launch button to solve the whole problem once and for all...
  • Please file a patent lawsuit against IBM so we don't have to deal with your trolling anymore.

    Best Regards,
    The World
  • Patent Pirates (Score:3, Informative)

    by rjriley (876688) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:22PM (#17541974)
    It is the outrageous conduct of patent pirates which transforms fun loving inventors into mythical ugly patent trolls. First they steal the inventor's property and then they abuse the legal system to rape the inventor. Meanwhile they use money they make from such theft to conduct massive PR campaigns in an effort to paint any inventor who has the gall to defend the patent PROPERTY rights as bad players.

    ====

    The Professional Inventors Alliance USA was created more than a decade ago to protect American invention and encourage innovation. American inventors saw a need to track congressional legislation and federal policy that impacts independent inventors, small and medium-sized businesses and colleges and universities. The Alliance is the premiere organization in the nation, providing independent inventors a united voice in order to improve public policy.

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  • by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:35PM (#17542236) Journal
    From my inspection of the patent, it appears that their "invention" is supposed to allow a joystick which operates with a 5 V supply to interface to a circuit which does not operate on a 5 V supply.

    This isn't just obvious, it's necessary! Anyone even half-assed skilled in the art would know that you need to do something to connect a 5 V TTL output to a 3.3 V LVTTL input.

    Okay, so maybe their something is novel or nonobvious. In fact, it's neither; they're using a tri-state buffer's threshold voltage as a comparator.

    Basically, digital logic circuits can have any manner of analog voltages applied to them. Circuit designers specify these voltages as Vil (voltage input low threshold) and Vih (voltage input high threshold). Any input voltage below Vil will generate an digital output voltage below Vol (voltage output low), which is usually interpreted as logic 0. Any input voltage above Vih will, correspondingly, generate a voltage above Voh, which is usually interpreted as logic 1.

    They specify that their buffer has hysteresis, so that way it won't suffer from the metastability that usually occurs when you feed a digital circuit an input voltage between Vil and Vih.

    Keep in mind that these components are all COTS (common-off-the-shelf) parts.

    They just drain a capacitor, which causes the input of the buffer to go below Vil, so the buffer outputs a logic 0, which raises a PCin bit (whose voltage level is not the 5V joystick level), let the capacitor charge through the potentiometer whose resistance is proportional to the current joystick position (which cap is being charged by a 5V supply), and when the charging capacitor exceeds Vih of the input buffer, the buffer outputs a logic 1, causing the PCin bit to go low again.

    There's some miscellaneous stuff about resetting, the order in which to apply signals to make the process work, etc. But, basically, the whole patent is bollocks.

    I also like how they have a small piece in their patent filing about how those skilled in the art will see obvious ways to modify their patent's invention, and that these modifications are still "in the spirit" of what the patent covers and are thus covered by the patent.
  • by wiredlogic (135348) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:58PM (#17542666)
    The claims are all describing the old "dumb" analog PC joystick. The claims specifically describes the joystick as being dependent on a processor on the other side of the interface to perform the procedure of measuring the position of the joystick. Ignoring the scads of prior art for this type of joystick, all modern consoles with analog sticks and all USB joysticks have some form of integrated processor that performs the procedure described in the claims before anything goes out over the interface. Even if the patent were valid there can be no valid claim of infringement for any modern hardware.
  • by ratboy666 (104074) <fred_weigel@hotmail . c om> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @02:55PM (#17543652) Homepage Journal
    but not in a good sense.

    An explanation for those who don't want to read the patent:

    An anlog joystick is pretty much a variable resistor. In order to convert this into a digital domain, the resistance must be measured. We know that the resistor itself can be used to change the discharge time of a capacitor -- this is common. Meauring the discharge time means determining the time the capacitor goes from one voltage to a lower voltage. Which, by its very nature is a "pulse".

    And this patent seems to cover all such interfaces in the "joystick" domain.

    Now, I can come up with alternate methods for reading the resistance. First one (off the top of my head), is to use a series of resistors controlled by a latched value to produce a reference voltage which is then sent through the joystick resistance. The final output is run through a gate which triggers at a reference voltage. Via search, we can determine the target joystick resistance. (I would probably use a binary search). But this is not any where NEAR as simple or obvious as the R-C approach.

    Now, the R-C approach has been used for other variable resistors (prior to 1998) -- the "joystick" application is the only new thing. I used it myself in the 80's. Just never for a joystick (not being into gaming). Its main benefits are that it needs only a single input pin and the circuit is simple. But, given those constraints it is obvious.

    Oh well -- go patent trolls. Sure glad I am not in the US.
  • Totally Bogus (Score:3, Informative)

    by DLPotts (1049506) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @06:16PM (#17547404)
    Few things to point out here. 1) I don't know who filed the infringement on this patent. 2) I am one of the inventors of this patent (DLPotts from Royersford, PA). I have no idea how they expect this to fly in court. Why? The idea of the patent directly ties to JOYSTICK PORTS on PC's, and NOTHING else. The Joystick port on the PC is a 5volt open collector port that uses sampled time to determine if the potentiometer has moved or not. Eventually the semiconductors involved dropped to 3.3 volt and thus the Joystick port would not function any more. The Patent reflects how the port had to be modified to accept a current joystick (ones designed to run on 5 volt) and still be accurate. The idea behind the design was not to stop people from inventing a low voltage joystick such as Nintendo, Sony and MS have done, but a way to use the (then current) joysticks in future systems. Since none of the game consoles involved actually use "PC JOYSTICK" ports (they have created their own ports), and they are not interfacing to the analog PC joysticks of the time; there is no way that this would ever stand up in court. I would also like to give a shout out to Jalil Fadavi of this patent too; he lost his battle to cancer a few months back.. He was a great man.

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