The story of joysticks and their patents

by | May 14, 2021 | Articles, Digital, Patents, Technology

The gaming industry continues to grow in Brazil. According to data from the Data Folha Institute in August 2020, the country has about 67 million consumers of electronic games. This is a considerable number of people who are considered as “gamers”.
Perhaps, not all of these people are seasoned gamers. Many may be unaware of the amount work involved, so that today we can have a comfortable and anatomical joystick to enjoy our favorite games. As we move from one generation to the next, both the processing power of the consoles and the beauty of the games’ graphics continue to evolve.

What also change are the joysticks. With each generation, new innovative features are introduced, more control options, buttons, levers and so on. And, as we know, leading companies not only create, but also patent these innovations.
As the content of patents is publicly accessible, these tell us the story of each new invention and also allow us to conduct an analysis that tells us about the historical evolution of these creations.
In terms of the joysticks from major consoles, where and when did it all begin? What innovations have joysticks from major consoles brought to the gaming industry as a whole? Can you guess?
We have prepared a short summary of these innovations based on the companies’ own patents that provide some insights about the history of joysticks.

Atari control patent
Patent: US4091234
Main innovation: Joystick based on a lever and a single button lever.

Nintendo control patent
Patent: US4687200A
Main invocation: Introduced the D-PAD (directional pad) mechanism in video game controls. Instead of using a whole hand to control the direction, a thumb is now enough.

Super Nintendo control patent
Patent: EP0470615
Main innovation: addition of two buttons in relation to the NES, shoulder buttons and round shape on the sides.

N64 control patent (thumb analog)
Patent: US6102803A
Main innovation: Central analog control, three shoulder buttons (including the z button in the center). Central analog control has become essentially important for 3D games, which were in their infancy in that generation. For the first time, the player could issue commands for his character to walk, jog, and even run, in all directions, all by means of the analog lever.
Bonus: Rumble pack expansion introduced vibrations on the joystick, so the controller was not only a data entry device, but also a feedback loop.

PS1 – Dualshock
Patent: US6,231,444
Main innovation: Introduction of two analog levers (good for 3D games) and, subsequently, also adding feedback vibration.

Nintendo Wii control patent
Patent: US8313379B2
Main innovation: Capacity to feel movements, ability to recognize gestures made with the control.

PS4 control patent
Patents: US10099121B2 / US10201748B2 / US10610778B2 / US9116555B2 / US9381435B2 / US9776080B2
Main innovation: Central touch pad.

Xbox one controller patent – elite controller
Patent: US10835812B2
Main innovation: Interchangeable and customizable rear levers.

Joystick technology has evolved considerably since the famous Atari lever. As expected, the trend is to have more innovation and more patents, including here in Brazil.
The Brazilian market has grown considerably (and has enormous potential to keep growing). In addition, Brazil has already reduced the delay in granting patents (the backlog) and today has several programs for accelerating the processing of patent applications.
All this makes the patenting process faster and more predictable. Looking to the future, we will certainly see new and innovative joysticks here in Brazil, both on the consumer market and in new Brazilian patents.

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