Author Topic: Who killed the M15?  (Read 14408 times)

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Offline netwebber

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Who killed the M15?
« on: Mon, 08 November 2010, 09:36:46 »
In the comments of my Model M15 review, I discovered that Lexmark had licensed much of its technology and designs to Maxi-Switch.

I did some digging/Googling, and things got interesting.

According to an Infoworld magazine announcement dated December 13, 1993: "An ergonomic keyboard from Maxi Switch features 72 keys, a 30-key numeric keypad, and an adjustable design that allows the user to split the keyboard in half." The keyboard was to be called the "Ergo Max."



Webwit brought this model up before, but he was mistaken as to its timing. A version of the Typing Injury FAQ, dated October 17, 1995, reports that Maxi-Switch "decided not to manufacture this keyboard."

Hmm, I wonder why...

The M15 patent was filed January 5, 1993. Then the Apple Adjustable Keyboard patent was filed less than a week later! Patent applications are published only after a delay, and there's no way Maxi-Switch could have known that both IBM and Apple had ergonomic keyboards in the works with patents pending. Oops.

After their announcement, Maxi-Switch probably got some strongly-worded letters from IBM and Apple's lawyers. This eventually led to negotiations (this is common in the computer industry) and Maxi-Switch ended up acquiring "certain tools, molds, patents, copyright licenses, manufacturing information and the Select-Ease trademark." The deal was announced on November 15, 1995--after Maxi-Switch had "decided not to manufacture" the Ergo Max.

itlnstln asserts that Maxi-Switch "walked away with the patent," but can anyone confirm that? And there are two patents on the M15: the design patent and the utility patent.

Even if Maxi-Touch got the design patent, the actual utility patent (for the invention) was licensed to Lexmark from Mark Goldstein, who went on the start Goldtouch. Thus, it doesn't seem like the license was exclusive.

In any event, the design patent has expired and the utility patent is up in 2012. There's hope for a return.
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Offline itlnstln

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #1 on: Mon, 08 November 2010, 10:18:10 »
Why you bringing up old ****?

In all seriousness, though, customers killed the M15.  It was too expensive, and (true) ergonomic keyboards never had much of a mainstream following.  Customers killed the Cherry MX-5000, too.  In the end, it almost doesn't matter who has the patents.  Since Unicomp doesn't have them, the M15 wouldn't get made anyway.  Even then, you can see how fast they're turning around new Space Saving Keyboards.


Offline lowpoly

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #2 on: Mon, 08 November 2010, 13:45:24 »
Quote from: itlnstln;244245
Customers killed the Cherry MX-5000, too.
And it's kind of ironic that the rubber dome clone (Siemens KBPC-E (?) aka Kinesis Maxim) still lives.

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Offline DesktopJinx

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #3 on: Mon, 08 November 2010, 14:19:33 »
A lot of things contributed to their demise. Offshore rubber-dome keyboards answered downward pressure on PC prices, the spread of the GUI reduced the need for most users to do a lot of keyboarding, in particular eliminating all of those weird hand-contorting command key combinations, and the fear of ubiquitous keyboard-caused RSI was never actualized.

Computer purchases became much more standardized as no-name clones gave way to (mostly new) big brand names and individual employees stopped getting to spec their own machines.

There was an explosion of ergonomic keyboard offerings, fracturing the potential market just as the forces that created the demand were on the wane. And since one of them was cheap and came from Microsoft, it became the go-to answer for any whiny employees.

And to the M15 in particular, it was a clicky keyboard at a time when a lot of people were (being) convinced that silent keyboards were better.

Back in the day adjustable keyboards were often called "cracked" keyboards, often derisively. I've taken plenty of ribbing for mine over the years. But the thing I've noticed about the people who make fun of my keyboard is that none of them can type worth a damn.
M15 for life

Offline keyb_gr

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #4 on: Mon, 08 November 2010, 14:22:25 »
Quote from: lowpoly;244352
And it's kind of ironic that the rubber dome clone (Siemens KBPC-E (?) aka Kinesis Maxim) still lives.

Maybe because here in Euroland, it's by far the cheapest adjustable ergo you can get. About 40€ is not that much, and it certainly has more right to claim "ergonomic" than a modestly reliable Microsoft 4000 aircraft carrier.

What's even more ironic though is that a G80-5000 wasn't even that expensive back in the day. They cost maybe 70% more than a regular G80, like 170..180 DM or so. That's less than you'd pay for a new Model M in the mid-'90s.
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Offline ErgoMark

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Some Personal Ergo Keyboard History
« Reply #5 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:03:47 »
I patented this idea in 1990 and over the next couple of years made mock-ups and prototypes.  In early 1993 after contacting almost all the major keyboard makers in the US and some off-shore, I ventured off to visit these companies on a protracted journey. Some of the companies visited included: Lexmark/IBM, Maxi Switch, Keytronic, Honeywell, Cherry (Germany) Apple, Alps Electric, Compaq, Dell, DEC…  This undertaking was supported and inspired by my wife Liz.

Within one year copies of my prototype began to surface.  Lexmark made the Select-Ease and IBM Options, Maxi made prototypes of the Ergo Max and Cherry produced theirs.  Cherry also shared my information with Siemens and they went on to produce that ergo keyboard which was also re-badged the Kinesis Maxim (ironic indeed).

The patent situation was a bit of a quagmire but without delving too deeply into it; Apple’s keyboard splayed but was flat and hence no issues there, and the Lexmark patent claims were very narrow due to my prior art and disclosures and so their patents claimed only the feet construction and the way the two keyboard halves held the ball, from top and bottom - very limited scope.

Actually, both the German companies and Maxi identically copied some artwork I had made up and hence the resemblance between the Ergo Max and Kinesis.  

Honorably, Alps Electric took a one year license to try to sell the concept to Apple their primary keyboard customer.  Apple already had theirs and this didn’t proceed.

Liz and I decided to assert our patent rights when the patents issued.  Lexmark took a license to produce and Cherry was forced out of production.  Lexmark was a spin-off of IBM and was their exclusive keyboard manufacturer until 1996 when their contract expired and Lexmark had to compete against all others for the IBM business.  As the buckling spring technology was far more costly than rubber domes they could not compete and sold the keyboard to their employees who then formed Unicomp.

Lexmark begrudgingly took a license under duress from us and our lawyers and a fairly lousy license was signed after a fairly hostile negotiation at their offices in Lexington.  Compaq’s engineers (thanks to Jay and Dave) were helpful in this regard as Compaq were going to start selling the keyboard in larger quantities and would not proceed with Lexmark until they honored our IP rights.

In the closing of Lexmark’s keyboard division the tooling for the Select-Ease/Options keyboard went to Maxi, however, Unicomp had the buckling spring technology, The tooling needed extensive modification to make it work with rubber domes and Maxi didn’t have the gumption.  And I had the patents which were non-exclusive to start then became exclusive to Goldstein/Goldtouch when the companies were formed.  

There were attempts to get the tooling from Maxi and have it made by Unicomp under license from me but Maxi was too difficult to deal with and last I time I spoke with their lawyer, the tooling could not be located.

Liz and I lost Goldtouch in 2004 in a hostile takeover and the patents went in that nasty episode.

Commercially, while it is true that the biggest competition came from the very much cheaper flat regular keyboards with rubber domes that are given away with computers, it was the politics of that time that influenced our keyboard’s destiny to a much greater extent.  The Clinton Administration introduced much stricter OSHA laws that were to decrease RSI injuries and that legislation drove Goldtouch sales tremendously.  As an example, Chevron/Texaco was buying a Goldtouch keyboard (and keypad) for every computer they had and we had other major companies about to do the same when Bush got in and within a few weeks of taking office overturned the Clinton OSHA initiative.  This returned the RSI issue from prevention to rehabilitation.  Our sales dropped to pre-Clinton days leaving us vulnerable to the takeover.

Then there is the Goldtouch Mouse that Liz and I created… copied by many.  Two major patent lawsuits…    

Both the Keyboard and Mouse are still in production in their various guises almost 20 years and 15 years later.

Mark Goldstein
ErgoMark

Offline Computer-Lab in Basement

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #6 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:12:53 »
Quote from: ripster;244370
The Ergonomic keyboard market needs more Razer babes.
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Holy ****, that guy looks exactly like my bi-sexual cousin, excpt without the mustache... ****in creeps me out!
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Offline iMav

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #7 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:18:23 »
Quote from: ErgoMark;266472
I patented this idea in 1990 and over the next couple of years made mock-ups and prototypes . . .
.
.
Mark Goldstein
ErgoMark

Now THAT is a great first post!!  Welcome to geekhack!

It would be great to capture some of this history in our wiki.  Glad to see you here Mark and I hope you stick around.  ;)

Offline elbowglue

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #8 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:18:47 »
Wow, thanks for the interesting read Mark - it's really interesting to hear that part of the story.  Welcome to geekhack btw, I hope you stick around and provide more insights and stay around, at least for some laughs.

Computer-lab, yer a douche, how can you follow Mark's post with that crud?
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Offline Computer-Lab in Basement

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #9 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:21:01 »
My apologies...
« Last Edit: Mon, 20 December 2010, 21:12:10 by Computer-Lab in Basement »
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Offline iMav

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #10 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:34:37 »
Let's try and keep the crap in the off topic forum.

Offline Sam

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #11 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:41:36 »
Quote from: ErgoMark;266472
I patented this idea in 1990...


Welcome to Geekhack and thanks for that great insight into the M-15!  I'm looking myself to design a keyboard, probably an ergonomic model, so I'm particularly interested in your story.

Offline kill will

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #12 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 20:52:03 »
Thanks for the great information Mark.  You seem like an important figure in the evolution of computer keyboards.  Hope to see more anecdotes in the future.
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Offline WhiteRice

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #13 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 21:56:37 »
Incredible story ErgoMark! I hope to hear more from you in the future.

Offline Lanx

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #14 on: Mon, 20 December 2010, 23:14:33 »
if ever there was a member that was due the name ergo... yup yup.

Offline clickclack

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #15 on: Tue, 21 December 2010, 04:21:48 »
To ErgoMark-
Indeed welcome to geekhack =)
Thank you so much for the fascinating background/history, it's much appreciated to be sure!

What a read! Despite the trials and tribulations, I found it to be quite inspirational. Congrats on taking that journey!


Quote from: iMav;266477
Now THAT is a great first post!!  Welcome to geekhack!
It would be great to capture some of this history in our wiki.  Glad to see you here Mark and I hope you stick around.  ;)


No kiddin! =D
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Offline ch_123

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #16 on: Tue, 21 December 2010, 05:39:30 »
Quote
In the closing of Lexmark’s keyboard division the tooling for the Select-Ease/Options keyboard went to Maxi, however, Unicomp had the buckling spring technology, The tooling needed extensive modification to make it work with rubber domes and Maxi didn’t have the gumption. And I had the patents which were non-exclusive to start then became exclusive to Goldstein/Goldtouch when the companies were formed.

There were attempts to get the tooling from Maxi and have it made by Unicomp under license from me but Maxi was too difficult to deal with and last I time I spoke with their lawyer, the tooling could not be located.


Odd. There's an article kicking around saying that Maxiswitch were given the rights to the buckling spring technology from Lexmark, and if you dig up their website from the mid 90s from archive.org, it claims that they were able to make buckling spring boards on request. They also produced the buckling spring trackpoint keyboard (M13) for IBM from ~1996-1998

Offline lowpoly

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #17 on: Tue, 21 December 2010, 07:50:38 »
Quote from: ErgoMark;266472
Cherry also shared my information with Siemens and they went on to produce that ergo keyboard which was also re-badged the Kinesis Maxim (ironic indeed).

I always wondered how these two could be so similar. Do you know who does the manufacturing for the Nixdorf/Siemens/Kinesis 'boards?

Quote from: ErgoMark;266472
There were attempts to get the tooling from Maxi and have it made by Unicomp under license from me but Maxi was too difficult to deal with and last I time I spoke with their lawyer, the tooling could not be located.

What a sad ending.

And another welcome from me. Please stay. :-)
« Last Edit: Wed, 22 December 2010, 05:37:19 by lowpoly »

Miniguru thread at GH // The Apple M0110 Today

Offline ErgoMark

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #18 on: Wed, 22 December 2010, 05:32:31 »
Thanks to all at Geekhack for the warm welcome.

In 95 - 96 when Lexmark informed me of their keyboard division's demise, we were quite devastated.  We then regrouped, I quit work, wrote business plans and Liz and I started looking for investment capital to start our own company to manufacture and market the keyboard.  We were successful in doing so and formed Goldtouch in Jan 1997.  During these years I made several attempts at working with Maxi but to no avail.  ch_123 They also told me that they could make buckling spring keyboards but at that time they weren’t and I stopped believing anything that they said to me and took no notice of their activities except when I bumped into their sales manager Mark at Taipei airport.  I made an attempt to buy the tooling when I heard of Maxi’s passing but their lawyer said their affairs were in disarray and the whereabouts of the tool was unknown.  It may still be out there - like truth.

So Goldtouch needed to retool the whole thing from scratch, quite a daunting and expensive task for Liz and Mark, who’d never done this before.

That’s when we decided to bring out an introductory product: the Goldtouch Mouse, a much less expensive product to produce.  This was a very successful shape which was copied by many and we unsuccessfully sued two of the major players.  It was not all bad though, the mouse gave us a marketing platform and infrastructure for launching the Goldtouch keyboard in 1998.

Lowpoly.  At that time Siemens/Nixdorf did their own keyboards.  However, I visited them in the late 1990s with Mitsumi and they were setting up production in Eastern European countries.  Mitsumi made the Goldtouch and wanted to replace their ergo keyboard with ours.  Quite a convoluted endeavour.

Offline ch_123

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« Reply #19 on: Wed, 22 December 2010, 05:40:36 »
Yeah, although they claimed that they made buckling spring keyboards, I could find no mention or examples of any Maxiswitch made buckling spring keyboards other than the M13.

As for the M13, there are questions over just how much of those things were actually made by Maxiswitch, given that the electronics have Lexmark logos stamped over them. It is possible that they were given old Lexmark stock and told to assemble them, possibly because licensing issues with the Trackpoint, or perhaps something to do with the agreement they made with Lexmark in 1995. Hard to know really.

Offline lowpoly

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #20 on: Wed, 22 December 2010, 07:31:52 »
Quote from: ErgoMark;267180
Lowpoly.  At that time Siemens/Nixdorf did their own keyboards.  However, I visited them in the late 1990s with Mitsumi and they were setting up production in Eastern European countries.  Mitsumi made the Goldtouch and wanted to replace their ergo keyboard with ours.  Quite a convoluted endeavour.


Thanks for clarifying. I once disassembled my Siemens/Nixdorf and it had this unusual soft-pcb/membrane combo. With no company label at all. Which made me suspect far east production.

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Offline keyb_gr

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #21 on: Wed, 22 December 2010, 11:40:20 »
I think KBPC PX and E are made in Germany, the lesser ones in the Far East.

Anyway, has anyone had more luck in finding the patents in question? I was able to dig up a few things, like the M15 design patent (D362434, plus 5454652), Apple Adjustable design patent (D338665) and even ones for the Model M (D292801) and "Model C" (D308360), plus an evolution of the Marquardt boards. (The "split keyboard with stuff in the middle" idea is an oldie, too.) I've been searching my rear off on Google Patents, my mouse hand isn't happy, but no trace of anything with the typical KBPC E / MX5000 layout. The M15 patent references a PCT application of Goldstein with a publication number of WO 92/00851, but no trace of that anywhere.

OK, here's the Maxi-Switch version of the M15 patent, 5527116. It is exactly the same as IBM's previous version 5454652, and also noted to have the same expiry date.

Anyway, WO 92/00851 is explicitly acknowledged in the M15 patent, and a few shortcomings and unsolved problems are pointed out (mostly the lack of a suggestion for an adjustment mechanism and an apparently problematic spacebar arrangement). Make of that what you will.
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Offline ErgoMark

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #22 on: Wed, 22 December 2010, 12:01:27 »
Here are some of my patents which can be viewed on USPTO.gov.  Most of the proir art is cited in these.

U.S. Patent 5,424,728 - granted June 13, 1995
U.S. Patent 5,543,790 - granted August 6, 1996
Adjustable Keyboard With Adjusting And Locking Mechanism, And Method Of Its Use – Pending -10/069,587.
Calibrating An Adjustable Ergonomic Keyboard – pending application - 09/793,894
Japan Patent 3,261,421 - granted Dec. 21, 2001
Key Association Techniques for Application Specific Codes

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Offline ErgoMark

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Who killed the M15?
« Reply #23 on: Thu, 23 December 2010, 01:07:57 »
Yes the patent seems to have been assigned from Lexmark to Maxiswitch.  Two of the so called inventors named were the guys I met with back in 1993.