United States Patent 7,250,938
System and method for improved user input on personal computing devices

Filed: January 6, 2004
Issued: July 31, 2007

Dustin C. Kirkland
David B. Kumhyr
Emily J. Ratliff
Kylene J. Smith

A user input mechanism is provided that allows a user to enter words as gestures on a virtual keyboard presented on the display device. The user input mechanism combines two existing and prevalent forms of user input: cursive handwriting and keyboard input. A familiar keyboard layout is presented on the display. A user then may place an implement, such as a stylus or the user's finger, in contact with the display. Typically, the implement will first touch the screen at a position of a first character in a word. The user then may move the implement along the surface of the display from character to character, spelling out a word.

Dustin Kirkland and I were working on alternative methods of input as a research idea apart from our day jobs at IBM. At IBM we were encouraged to think outside the box and experiment. What we were looking for was an alternative method to input text that would be portable across computers, laptops and PDAs. Our idea we named Qwersive since it was a style of imput that combined cursive writing style (touch the pen down and lift only at the end of the word) and the QWERTY keyboard found on most computers and also presented as a "tapable" image on PDAs.

We also collaborated with Emily and Kylie to create a fully implementable concept. We found that the patterns traces out by connecting the qwersive swipe of the pen or finger created a unique pattern. I created a test suite using the top 500 most common words in the English language and found the patterns remained highly unique. I expanded this test using the non US keyboards and the common 500 words in French, German and Spanish finding again that they produced largely unique signatures. We knew we had a recreatable shorthand method of input!

Prior to submitting an internal patent disclosure we did the requisite prior art searching. The only thing close to our idea was a type of entry using the ATOMIK keyboard layout. The ATOMIK layout was presented as a circular system with letters arranged along the outside rim and the selection done by sliding out to the letter and then back into the center. This was later updated after the issuance of the qwersive patent in all the presentations to include a QWERTY keyboard.

After filing the patents with the USPTO Dustin and I created a presentation that was accepted for publication by the 27th Internationalization and Unicode Conference and we presented our ideas and tests along with a prototype in Berlin, Germany in April 2005. The paper that was presented is below.

Paper: An Alternative Text Input Method

We subsequently filed disclosures relating to alternative uses for Qwersive including remote data entry using Qwersive patterns for sterile environments and other related uses. Some of these are pending.

It is gratifying to see that Qwersive has made it to market and is the basis for the Swype and Shapewriter products. (ShapeWriter, Inc. was purchased by Nuance Communications and the ShapeWriter software was removed from the Android Market indefinitely on June 20, 2010.)