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

Introduction to Patent Monitoring, Part 1/3: Why Monitor?

Being warned of potential threats to the own company is one of the reasons why patent monitoring should be considered.

About This Series Of Articles

In 2016, the European Patent Office received nearly 160,000 patent applications. Around 95,900 patents were granted in the same year, more than ever before and an increase of around 40% compared to the previous year. As a research company, and even as a patent professional, it is very difficult to keep track of what is important to you. Missing crucial applications and patents is a constant thought—and the consequences hardly comprehensible. (EPO, Annual Report 2016)

In this series of articles, I want to show you strategies to minimize this risk and monitor the patent situation in your technical area with simple and time-saving means. Become active instead of having to react defensively to the strategies of the competition!

In the first part of my article series on patent monitoring, I would like to explain why the monitoring of both own and third-party patent applications in the own industry should under no circumstances be neglected  by any company and research organization—even if one does not own any patents. Monitoring means, in the simplest sense, to stay up to date. The data published by the patent offices is very extensive and, when appropriately filtered and prepared, provides a wealth of information that can both help protect and grow your company and its intellectual property and give you an advantage over the competition.

I would like to highlight the following six aspects:

  1. Monitoring as a pre-warning device. Getting critical information at the earliest possible moment can create new opportunities for your business. A patent for a new technology relevant to your field of activities is filed? To know this even before the patent is issued can e.g. enable the early negotiation of an exclusive license to gain a competitive advantage. In addition, information on recently expired patents—e.g. because an annual fee was not paid—can be very beneficial.
  2. Monitoring keeps an eye on the competition. Freshly published patent applications from the competition can shed light on which market segments or product properties your competitors would like to focus on in the near future. At the same time, you can prevent competitors from systematically “filling gaps” and expanding their patent portfolio without your knowledge—instead, you can react immediately and possibly at least gain time.
  3. Monitoring can indicate directions for your research and development. Patents are not only granted for breakthrough innovations, but also for new products or methods that offer advantages or improvements over existing technology. Knowing the latest developments at an early stage can provide your own research ideas along with a time lead for further developments.
  4. Monitoring can prevent research and development in the wrong direction. Research and development is expensive—and can ultimately be obsolete if a competitor is faster and the first to apply for a patent on an innovation. Just as the knowledge of current patent applications can indicate new directions, it can also be useful to prevent unnecessarily wasting resources on something that in the end cannot be commercially exploited by your organization.
  5. Monitoring can detect potential infringement. The identification of newly published inventions that potentially violate the intellectual property of your company allows the early initiation of appropriate legal action or licensing agreements.
  6. Monitoring can complement your patent strategy. In addition to the actual technical content, the monitoring of patent applications can provide a wealth of information of strategic nature: which business model will your competition be pursuing, e.g. will the focus be on innovation or cost reduction? How should your business behave, e.g. increase or decrease R&D spendings? How is your industry developing, e.g. are there new competitors, or new products that could make yours obsolete? How do the patent offices and courts of your relevant markets evolve, e.g. are there any juridical changes? And last but not least: which patent strategy do you pursue, offensively (for example, generating license revenue) or defensively (securing your freedom to operate) or a mixture of both?


To answer the question of whether and, if so, why patent monitoring could be invaluable to you, you may also ask yourself the following questions: can you afford to be unaware of patent activity in your industry? Can you afford not to consider patent applications of your competitors? If you answer these questions in the negative, then at the end of this first part of my series of articles, I want to encourage you to become more familiar with the topic of patent application monitoring—Part 2 will be posted here on my website shortly. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Leaving Pen And Paper Behind

Many companies prefer to solve even complex problems with pen and paper rather than software. The reasons are false reservations and bad experiences in the past. But the potential cost and time savings are enormous.

When consulting clients in software matters, at the first meeting I often notice a certain fundamental fear, if not resentment against software as a problem-solving tool in general. Solutions that have become indispensable for day-to-day business, such as word processing, accounting or customer administration, are used and accepted, but for everything else, many businesses prefer to use pen and paper. Software is not uncommonly perceived as a time waster, a burden and something with which one would like to have as little to do as possible.

Excel In The Wild

A real example: In a manufacturing company, individual orders were managed centrally—handwritten. While this worked smoothly on calm days, the overview was completely lost at high utilization—and this obviously was the naturally desired state of affairs. The problems were numerous: status of individual orders unknown, timely completion to the promised delivery date at risk, employees unknowingly working against each other. The management had different ideas to tackle the problem using the same methods that were always used: circulation slips and a big whiteboard were put in use and soon discarded. Finally, the idea came up to use a software solution. Without research or consultation they resorted to the most obvious software product, the only too well-known, supposed Swiss Army knife of the software world: Excel, the spreadsheet from Microsoft. With great expenditure of time of all participants an attempt was made to use it as a project management solution.

The end was inevitable: after countless hours, endless anger and frustration to keep the one, centralized Excel file up to date, they returned to pen and paper with all the familiar procedures and challenges. Software as a whole had failed as a solution—after all, they had tried Excel and it did not work out.

There will always be issues that software cannot help you with. But let me assure you that a) in all other cases, the right software solution to your problem is something that can save you a significant amount of time and money. That b) this solution is not too complex to be operated by you and your employees, and that c) its developing company knows the challenges of your industry only too well and has years of experience in solving them.

How To Find Suitable Software For Your Business

These are my three recommendations to you to find this software solution:

  1. Ask your trusted expert, as soon as possible! This may sound incredibly obvious—yet, in my experience, it is not done often enough, which introduces the immediate and great danger of you unnecessarily limiting yourself. As in the example above, you might end up going in the wrong direction altogether. And all that despite the fact that—according to my experience—nowadays literally every company has an external “software guy” or “IT person” only a phone call away. My advice: consult this person with your questions, and do that right at the beginning!
  2. Do not be afraid to ask someone else who is just a click away: Google. Look for your problem along with the keywords “software” and / or “cloud”. Within ten minutes you will have an overview of available solutions that might provide exactly what you are looking for. Many software products nowadays run as a so-called cloud application in your web browser, in other words you do not have to install anything or worry about your own IT infrastructure. In addition, such applications often offer short introductory videos on their website. Use the available information to quickly sort out what you like and don’t like. And best of all: almost all providers of such software offer a free test phase without any obligations.
  3. Almost certainly, there will be trade shows or industry events for your sector. Even if the event location or date is unfavorable to you, or you simply do not have the time for a personal visit, the event’s website will provide you with a list of exhibitors. With a little luck, after just a short search, you will find exactly the right provider for your future software solution.

« Neuere Einträge

My Topics


Subscribe to my newsletter to receive new articles by email. (It’s free!)

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!