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Hermann Stainer

IP-Software Developer & Consultant, MBA, CEO of Sympatent Software GmbH

News & Articles

Iconic Patents: The D-Pad

Not just known by fans of video games: the D-pad (pictured left) allows you to enter directions using just one finger, your thumb.

About This Series Of Articles

Behind every patent there is a story—and in this series of articles I would like to introduce some of the most well-known. Inventions that caused a sensation and gained cult status. I will also address the inventors and applicants of these patents.

Even if the term D-pad initially sounds unfamiliar—you’ve probably used one before. The "Directional Pad" was originally developed for the operation of video games, but nowadays is used in a variety of devices, e.g. TV remotes, mobile phones, or scientific calculators. It is a flat control, mostly operated by using the left thumb, and has the form of a plus sign that allows easy input of the four basic directions left / right and up / down. In most cases far more than just these four directions are possible, e.g. the input of "left-up". Today's D-Pads are often sensitive enough to support up to 16 different directions.

Prior to the invention of the D-pad, the input of such directional information was achieved by using individual buttons (one for each direction), or via so-called joysticks. The latter are still used today and offer higher precision (i.e. much more than the aforementioned 16 directions), but are not as compact and also have the major disadvantage that they are not as easy to use—because, instead of just the thumb, multiple fingers are required.

The US patent for the D-pad was submitted in 1985 by the entertainment-electronics company Nintendo. Inventor was none other than Gunpei Yokoi, well-known in the industry and famous for his significant contributions to the development of the “Game Boy”.

Illustrations from the US patent.
Illustrations from the US patent.

The patent gave Nintendo the exclusive usage rights for 20 years. This forced the competition, such as Sony or Microsoft, to use alternative approaches for their products, e.g. instead of the plus-sign shape a circular control was used. As soon as the patent expired in 2005, these workarounds were immediately replaced by the now freely available D-pad technology.

In retrospect, there are few patents in the entertainment-electronics industry—a sector that is certainly not poor in terms of innovation—that have achieved such a cult status as the D-pad. Even if nowadays very diverse control methods are used, it has revolutionized the world of video games and also apart from games and entertainment has significantly influenced how directional input can be achieved in a user-friendly manner.

It’s Christmas time and with this toy-related article I would like to wish you Merry Christmas, great holidays with your families and friends, and a wonderful New Year. Thank you for reading my articles and being a visitor of my website. See you in 2018! Hermann

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Hermann, I’m in the software business for 20 years—welcome to my website! Here I write mostly about both the software industry in general and my personal experiences with my company Sympatent.

My specialty is IP (=intellectual property) software, which is used by patent professionals such as law firms or companies that own patents.

If you have a question about one of my articles, something to share or just want to chat, please contact me!