Jez Higgins

Freelance software generalist
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Thursday 30 May 2013 The Forest Road Reader, No 60

One day my Logitech TrackMan Marble FX, the finest pointing device ever invented, will give up the ghost and I'll have to start using some inferior thing. Bum.

The Marble FX is long discontinued, killed by in a patent dispute. You can regard this is yet another 'triumph' of patenting the bloody obvious. Trackballs, first developed in the early 1950s, actually predate the invention of the mouse by a decade, but the US patent office accepted many, many patents along the lines of we put a trackball in a different shaped enclosure and, in this particular case (and presumably others) the court stood up the claim that his enclosure looks like our enclosure, make him stop. Defenders of patents often argue that they protect the 'little guy' from being clobbered by the 'big guys' (in reality, patent disputes are, as Chris Oldwood suggests, more like games of corporate top trumps). Here's an example where the little guy, Samuel Gart, had his day in court and won against the big guy, Logitech (despite the crappiness of his claim). So where is his product? He filed his patent in 1988. The judgement against Logitech was in 2001. Why are dedicated TrackMan Marble FX users still using their decade old trackballs and paying silly money on eBay for replacements, instead of using our shiny new Gart trackballs? What, exactly, has the patent system achieved here, because it certainly hasn't helped a little guy get bigger.

For now, the secondhand market can keep me going. But one day they will all be gone and I'll be stuck, no matter how hard I look, with some poorer alternative. For the rest of my life. It casts a dark shadow over the future.

Hang on, wouldn't a patent applied for in 1988 have expired by now? Maybe there is hope after all.


Tagged trackman


Jez Higgins

Freelance software generalist
software created
extended or repaired

Older posts are available in the archive or through tags.

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About