For the Telemarq Pen, the writing’s on the… screen?

Some of my readers will know about plans I started hatching about seven years ago, but worked on again more seriously last year, for a new device, which I called the Telemarq Pen.

The basic idea is that writing and drawing are incredibly important aspects of human communication – as demonstrated by the number of whiteboards we put in our offices – and yet something that is very poorly served by current technology. The nearest we get to a widely-deployed drawing device is the iPad, which isn’t designed for it and reduces most artistic endeavours to the level of crude finger-painting.

I had an idea for a low-cost stylus that could be used with any LCD display – a phone, tablet, laptop, even a TV – and yet would allow for exceedingly high-resolution drawing. The basic idea was to include a small camera – something that now costs very little – pointing at the screen, and use various cunning techniques to recognise the pixels at which it was pointing. I reckoned I could locate the pen on the screen at sub-pixel resolution, so it would be a very accurate drafting device, and yet could be made for a few dollars.

I did some experiments, wrote a draft patent, produced a nice slideshow, and was on the verge of going out and pitching it to investors. If you look carefully at the Telemarq logo you can see that pens were on my mind when I designed it! But at the start of this year, other things – mostly the need to earn some money again – put my plans on hold.

Which, it turns out, was just as well.

In May, an Apple patent was published showing that they had had very much the same ideas.

Today, there’s a report of, guess what, Microsoft’s prototype optical stylus.

So I think my plans are now definitely shelved! (Though if either of them would like to hire me, I have some fun ideas on how to optimise the location process!)

Now, I suppose I could be kicking myself that I didn’t file some patents six or seven years ago, when I first started pointing cameras at screens – but I couldn’t have afforded it at that point, and however good your patents, it’s a brave man who takes on both Apple and Microsoft’s lawyers! It would have been much more likely to result in ruin than riches. A clear illustration of the problems of the current patent system, perhaps?

So, in fact, I’m very grateful that the Fates conspired to make me abandon the project six months ago. But I can still go on at great length to anyone who’d like to buy me a beer about why such a device is vitally important and how it should be done!

I hope they pursue this seriously, beyond simply filing IP, because I, at least, would be an enthusiastic customer. So perhaps I’ll get my pen in the end!

The first Telemarq pen prototype

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