Apple awarded patent for touch-sensitive mouse

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent for a mouse with embedded touch sensors, otherwise known as the Mighty Mouse or Apple Mouse.

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,279,176 for a "Mouse with improved input mechanisms using touch sensors," covers both the Apple Mouse, formerly called the Mighty Mouse, and some technology incorporated into the company's current Magic Mouse offering.

A continuation of a 2005 patent for what would become the Apple Mouse, Tuesday's patent is also a cross-reference of seven other GUI input-related properties dating back to 2002 and 2003.

Cutaway View
Cutaway and overhead view of mouse. Note pivot point (106) and touch sensors (112A,112B).

Claimed in the IP is a mouse comprised of a monolithic unibody top member, which incorporates touch-sensing elements, that moves relative to a bottom member through a pivot mechanism. According to the invention, this layout is more elegant than a conventional mouse as there are no mechanical buttons or breaks in the top casing to detract from the object's aesthetics.

Also unlike "normal" input accessories, the patented cover portion acts like one large button with a pivot located toward the rear of the device so the upper member moves forward and downward when pressed. Going further, the upper member activates a switch that causes the device's microcontroller to send a "button event" signal to the computer.

Exploded View
Exploded view of Apple Mouse.

While "more elegant," the design provides only one functional button, whereas conventional products can have almost any number. To give back functionality lost with the unibody style changes, Apple's patent calls for a touch-sensitive upper member that can generate a "touch signal" or "touch event" in a number of predetermined zones prior to the "button event" signal. A control circuit is configured to report an "input event" after calculating where a user's fingers were located on the device when the mouse is clicked. Depending on how the device is configured, the design effectively offers a system able to function as a multi-button mouse. For example a "right click" can be logged if a user's middle finger generated a touch event on the right side of the mouse when the switch is activated.

The patent mentions the "jog ball" on top of the device as a separate means of interacting with the cursor as well as a control for scrolling.

Interestingly, a number of feedback options were provided that never made their way to the final product, including LED lights, on-board buzzers and haptic motion devices.

Also noted in the invention's description are the pressure-sensitive side "wings" seen on the Apple Mouse, which initiated certain GUI elements like Dashboard access when squeezed.