Saturday, January 26, 2008

United Keys & Valdi's imaginary keyboard

After all the media attention generated from Art Lebedev's OLED-keyboard Opimus Maximus, the company United Keys decided that it was a new push for their alternative display-keyboard. They have announced manufacturing plans for a gaming-keyboard that will be available this summer. What most people don’t know is that United Keys was started by the now infamous Valdi Ivancic of the Medison Celebrity-fame, among others. I have been aware of this since the start of the whole Medison Celebrity-mess, but never paid any attention towards this since it seemed to be a dead project. But now when the company is alive again, I decided to dig a bit deeper and publish my findings! Read on, it will be worth it, I promise ;)


The story goes that Valdi got this great idea back in 1998 about this keyboard with programmable screens on each key, called the iBoard. He filed a patent application in Sweden and created the company Intelligentia International AB to realize the whole thing. The idea was to license the technology to other companies that would manufacture the keyboards and other devices with display keys. Time went on, and Valdi travelled to USA and started the company Swedish Keys to manage the patents there. Several patent applications were made both in the US and other parts of the world. Later he helped to start the company United Keys in 2004, which would continue where Intelligentia and Swedish Keys left off. The company tried to license its technology for several years, but didn’t have any luck until this year.

The true story

Valdi did indeed file a patent application about the keyboard back in the end of the 90’ies. However, the application fee was never paid, so the Swedish patent office closed the application in 2001. I have written about Intelligentia International AB before when investigating Valdi’s past, and came up with this: The Company winded up without any economical assets. The last activity in the company seems to have been in 2001 or 2002 sometime, when they got really hard criticism from the authorized accountant. This was because that Valdi couldn't provide any documentation on income and expenses, and that taxes and fees hadn’t been paid in the right time, or at all. There were even missing money in the company. The accountant even concluded that the company was obligated to do a forced liquidation because of several failed equity issuances.

What about United keys?

United Keys also seems like a bit of a shady company. Back in September 2005 they started to take preorders for the keyboard “250PRO”. The keyboard would have monochrome LCD-displays on the function-keys. The price was announced to be $299.99 when delivered in January 2006, but United Keys offered a “friends and family” discount that would lower the price to $199.99 until the end of 2005. As you might expect (It involves Valdi, right?), no keyboards were ever delivered. Instead, they pushed the release almost month for month, and accordingly extended the timeframe for the discount. During this timeframe, Valdi said in several interviews and postings that the keyboard actually was available for purchase and delivery. This went on until the start of 2007 when all information about the 250PRO was discarded, and instead they started to take preorders with the following text:

“Soon we'll make available a display key PC keyboard, with the 12 function keys enabled. This is a real production unit built by a top keyboard manufacturer. But it will also be our first ("pilot") run. As such, it will probably need software improvement (which is where you come in!). If you are technically strong, and a true "first adopter" by nature, we'd like you to bang around on it — and then provide feedback. It'll be priced accordingly, reflecting a huge discount vs. future products. Let us know your interest by filling out the form below.”

This information is still available on their website, but the wording has changed a tiny bit. Now it will have 9 keys with displays instead of 12, and will be manufactured by Foxconn instead of a "top keyboard manufacturer".

What about the patents?

As I wrote above, the original Swedish patent application was never granted. An application has been made in Canada, but a patent has never been issued due to that United Keys never has returned a request for examination. There is however a couple of patents approved in the US from United Keys and Valdi, but as most people know, it’s comparatively easy to get a patent approved in US (as in this very similar case), and that it necessarily won’t hold up in court if objected. The approved patents are also quite general, just claiming the idea of programmable display keys on any type of device. What’s more, there is already older approved patents for these types of keyboards, which would make the newer patents invalid.

Is there more to it?

Except for the patents, I can’t find any current links between Valdi and United Keys, maybe they are going serious? Trough my research, I have found more and more of Valdi’s apparent lies about his and the companies histories, so I wouldn’t count on it. So let’s end this article with a quote from Valdi himself in an interview about the keyboard and patents, dated around last summer, the same time he announced the Medison Celebrity:

"Art Lebedev has scammed about two million Swedish crowns from gullible people who think that they will get a fantastic keyboard for Christmas. [...] They think that they can get away with just good marketing and pretty pictures of a product that they don't have."

Maybe Valdi should apply the same logic to his own products and ideas?


Peter said...

Yes, I completely agree. The Unitedkeys business is not much different from Medison.

Art Lebedev's design is supported by real demos and actually he already launched a simple 3 button keyboard with the same idea called the Optimus Mini Three commercially:

You can also find it on E-bay.

A real product, but it looks like their sales channels are somewhat weak.

I hope Apple can figure out to get this idea into a sleek Apple designed keyboard and I might end up being one of the first customers...

Anonymous said...

United Keys is clearly somehow related to:

Install Myself Videos (same website, same phone nr, ...)

This website also contains some info about a certain Ronald Brown, who also is said to own United Keys

and runs this blog:

I am thinking his bio sounds very much blown up in the same ways as Valdi's (especially the part about HP), but I might be wrong of course.

Anyone feel like googling some more about this?

marketer said...

I wonder what the 120 Brazilien empolyees are doing for Valdi right now ... maybe they are building key-boards?

But I guess they are doing "logistics" ...

I hope that Valdi and the brain-less Medison managers are happy ... it seems like everything they promised is comming to live ... step by step ... I for one think that the Medison brand name really stands for science ... said...

And Art Lebedev Studio is oen of the biggest Russian designfirms with Clients like Nike, Samsung..

There was an article with Art in Swedish Cap & Design a couple of years ago.