Welcome to the NAIP's English-language blog on IP-related news and topics for inventors, engineers, companies and patent professionals in Asia. As we get started, feel free to share your thoughts, comments or any suggestions, and check back often for the latest updates.

Bookmark this page! or Subscribe (RSS)

The Father of All Mice, The Mother of All Demos

Photo credit to Wikipedia
By Daniel Gross
I'll admit that I had never heard of Douglas Engelbart before I read the recent predictions of the computer mouse becoming obsolete within 5 years. The recent rise in alternative input methods, such as those used by the iPhone and the Wii remote, is only the beginning. Companies like Sony and Panasonic are already testing devices having facial recognition software advanced enough to not only know who you are, but what you want by your expressions and actions. We may soon be changing web sites merely by flicking our wrist or blinking an eye. Who needs a pointing device when the computer can see what you are pointing at?

But what does the demise of our dear friend the mouse have to do with Douglas Engelbart? Well, he's the mouse's father. With a flash of genius and a lot of sweat, Douglas gave birth to the first mouse in a magical moment back in 1964 and was rightfully rewarded the first mouse patent (US 3,541,541) a few years later. Although numerous changes have been made to the basic design over the years, the idea and usage of the original “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System” remain as true as ever, and it is hard to imagine using a computer today without having that position indicator under my hand.

Some consider the mouse as his crowning achievement, but the thing that Engelbart probably should be famous for is a presentation now known as “The Mother of all Demos” in 1968. At the time, there were no PCs, no color screens, and no graphics. Computers were mainframes in back rooms run by technicians on dumb terminals using line editors and C prompts (Google it or ask your grandfather :). Yet in the Mother of all Demos, he unveiled a revolutionary concept: a mouse-driven graphical interface so detailed that the system included copy and paste, email, hyperlinks, collapsible file trees, even video conferencing, among other novelties.

Got that? This guy had really invented windows. His mouse was just a tool to enhance his GUI. He changed our lives with that demo, even if he had to wait 15 more years before Xerox, Apple, and Microsoft finally brought the change to the people.

It is interesting to note that Engelbart never received any patents on his GUI because the USPTO did not issue software patents in those days. He also never received any royalties from his mouse patent because his vision was so advanced that the patent had expired by the time the computer industry caught up with the technology.

And now, if the predictions about the end of the mouse prove to be true, does it really make any difference except for the loss of a 44 year old friend? I don't think so. We'll still be using versions of Engelbart's GUI for a very long time to come, even if soon the only pointing device you will need is your finger.

"It would be wonderful if I can inspire others, who are struggling to realize their dreams, to say 'if this country kid could do it, let me keep slogging away'." - Douglas Engelbart


Back to Top