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Apple Sued For Ergonomic Keyboard

by Scott Mandell -- gggj@cornella.cit.cornell.edu

[This article reprinted with permission from CLiCKS, the newsletter of MUGWUMP, the Ithaca Macintosh Users Group.]

According to the developer of Apple's Ergonomic Keyboard, Sandy Williamson, Apple is currently being sued for patent infringement by the makers of The Tony keyboard. When asked more about the keyboard and the suit, Mr. Williamson had "no comment."

A second suit is pending from Lee Volman, a noted keyboard designer, and a third from a hand surgeon with whom Mr. Williamson consulted. The hand surgeon suing Apple says Mr. Williamson contacted him for help with a personal problem with his keyboard. The surgeon spent at least six hours telling Mr. Williamson what he should do to lessen his pain while typing, never told that this information would be put into product development. The surgeon also says that Apple's keyboard is not designed correctly.

Dale Redder of Industrial Innovations (makers of the DataHand keyboard) in Phoenix, Arizona, says Apple could have avoided these suits and the general disrespect from the keyboard industry by paying some of their approximately $2 million per day R&D budget to the rightful patent holders. Mr. Redder said Apple thinks they are so big they can push the little guys aside without penalty, but he thinks Apple will lose these lawsuits if they don't settle out of court.

[I've heard dissenting opinions as to Apple's legal stand from sources at Apple, and Apple may settle out of court even if they have not infringed on patents. I have also heard that Apple settled the suit with Tony Hodges, although I have been unable to confirm this. -Adam]

Mr. Redder's opinion of the new Apple keyboard? "Of the fifteen ergonomic issues that our DataHand addresses, Apple's keyboard addresses only one. Not to say it isn't an improvement... it's like a sailboat whereas a conventional keyboard is a rowboat. But we like to think of the DataHand as a steamship."

Jeff Fzmanda, Vice President of HealthCare Keyboard, Inc., says that all of the keyboard designers and manufacturers should stop suing each other and should share some of their information in order to make healthier keyboards for the consumer. HealthCare, Inc. makes the Comfort Keyboard, which was recently named a Finalist for the National Merit Award.

[Speaking as someone who suffers from some of these problems, I second Jeff Fzmanda. If these keyboards can reduce the incidence of repetitive stress injuries (which only thorough and extensive testing can verify), these companies should all shut up, curb their lawyers, and work together to prevent the pain and suffering that many keyboard users endure. Think of the extent to which the market will shrink when millions of people cannot type on even one of these keyboards. Time's a-wasting! -Adam]