Through the generosity of one of my favorite people, a Thinkpad X21 has recently entered my life. The X21, like many other IBM laptops, has small LED right above the LCD inside the lid’s bevel. The LED can be toggled on and off with a key combination on the keyboard and is designed to illuminate the keyboard and mouse. However, it is not particularly bright and does absolutely nothing except in complete darkness. At that point, it’s light is basically drowned out by the light coming from the LCD. It’s a cute gimmick but it is not particularly useful.
At Greg Pomerantz’s 43811/1461 birthday party, I wondered out loud who thought this would be a useful feature. Greg pointed out that anybody who held a patent on the technology might think so. After all, they went through the trouble of getting the patent; they might as well use it for something!
Sure enough, IBM holds US Patent number 6,561,668 for a computer with keyboard illuminator for use in operating environments with inadequate ambient lighting conditions. Here’s the abstract:
In a portable computer, an LED holder is provided in the upper portion of an LCD and an LED is attached inside the LED holder. Light emitted from the LED passes through an aperture provided in the bottom portion of the LED holder and illuminates a keyboard. Furthermore, switching on or off the LED is manually performed by a switch installed in the portable computer and is also controlled from a utility program, etc., by a switching controller circuit installed inside a main body.
Thank $GOD for patent law. Without it, the inventor of the LED on the laptop screen would not have been motivated to follow through on this highly original and non-obvious innovation. The fact that other computer manufacturers will not be able to mount dim LEDs above their laptop monitors without shelling out to IBM is the small price society pays to encourage such breakthroughs and to make sure that all of the information necessary to reproduce this invention is fully available to us in the form of published patent.