Computer With Keyboard Illuminator For Use In Operating Environments With Inadequate Ambient Lighting Conditions

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.

9 Replies to “Computer With Keyboard Illuminator For Use In Operating Environments With Inadequate Ambient Lighting Conditions”

  1. PowerBooks have had backlit keyboards for over 2 years, starting with the original 17″ in Jan. 2003, and last year the 15″ model got a backlit keyboard.

  2. I can think of exactly one situation in which it is (and has been) a useful feature.

    Imagine you’re on a plane, making an overnight flight. The cabin lights are switched off so that those lucky people who can sleep on planes may do so. You, however, wish to code (or write emails, or read hypertext novels, or whatever it is you wish to do). Your screen brightness is set as possible to conserve battery power (the flight is overnight, after all). The light above your seat is broken. Thus, you cannot see a fucking thing. Not even the keys on your sexy IBM ThinkPad with that useless keyboard illuminator.


  3. I’ve actually used the light on my T41 a number of times when it’s mostly dark and I have my screen’s brightness turned all the way down, and I want to be able to see my keyboard.

  4. While I don’t suspect I’ll find it useful, clearly, some people have found it slightly useful in a very small number of situations.


  5. But if you touch-type (as I do) – what’s the point of seeing the keyboard? Shouldn’t we just encourage better typing practices rather than having people staring at keyboards?

  6. I’ve always found the keyboard light on my x30 to be of use in finding some of the less frequently used keys in pitch blackness.  However the predominant use which my patented “keyboard illuminator” has found is as a book light, usually for computer manuals which I may have cause to reference.

    So if I were to design a laptop and I wanted to include an illumination device for the keyboard, I’d just call it a book light and let IBM eat their nasty, obvious patent.

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