Is the keyboard layout QWERTY proprietary? Can one use it in their own keyboard apps without buying a license? If no, are there any non-proprietary keyboard layouts?

  • This question goes soo deep into the land of patents that it might be better suited for our sister site Ask Patents. Sep 23, 2020 at 16:15
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1 Answer 1


Keyboard layouts can be patentable inventions. But the relevant typewriter patents are >140 years old and have long expired[1]. So QWERTY is effectively public domain.

However, novel smartphone input methods are still patented. E.g. the technique of swiping is still patented until at least 2024.

Some Keyboard layouts are explicitly open source. I use the EURkey layout which is GPL-licensed. That doesn't make patents impossible per se, but makes it possible to implement the layout freely regardless of which patents the layout's author might hold. Of course, EURkey is itself a keyboard layout based on QWERTY.

[1]: The paper On the prehistory of QWERTY suggests that an early version of this layout appeared in US patent 207559, but I can't find it in that document. The patent describes technical workings of a typewriter, it probably wouldn't have occurred to the inventor at the time to also patent a particular arrangement of keys.

  • So you mean I can use it? Sep 23, 2020 at 18:35
  • I mean make my own virtual QWERTY keyboard? Sep 23, 2020 at 18:36
  • @compenthusiast To the best of my knowledge, there are no restrictions on the use of the QWERTY layout. So yes: you can use it for a virtual keyboard. However, other common parts of a virtual keyboard (like swipe input) might be proprietary and would require a license from the patent holder.
    – amon
    Sep 23, 2020 at 18:38
  • My virtual keyboard does not use swipes only the keys. Sep 23, 2020 at 18:43
  • Mainly due to some reasons I want to provide users with my separate keyboard instead of the Android keyboard. Sep 23, 2020 at 18:44

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