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Microsoft sued for patent infringement

The newly launched Windows 8 Operating System has already run into patent trouble, with a US Maine based company named Surfcast alleging that it had patented the concept of Live Tiles as far back as the 90s.

The live tiles are an integral feature of Windows 8 and refer to self updating dynamic tiles that have replaced the familiar start menu. Each tile can be dragged around and its positioning changed, as can clusters of tiles. Each cluster can also be customised to one’s tastes — by adding or subtracting individual tiles in the cluster.

The live aspect means that every application is constantly updating in the background even if it is not being actively used.

A statement on the SurfCast website from Ovid Santoro, identified as the CEO of the company read, “We developed the concept of Tiles in the 1990s, which was ahead of its time. Microsoft’s Live Tiles are the centerpiece of Microsoft’s new Operating Systems and are covered by our patent.” (Download the PDF of the lawsuit)

According to an announcement on the Surfcast website,

SurfCast designs Operating System technology and has four issued patents with additional applications pending.

SurfCast designed a new concept referred to as ‘Tiles’.

Tiles can be thought of as dynamically updating icons. A Tile is different from an icon because it can be both selectable and live — containing refreshed content that provides a real-time or near-real-time view of the underlying information.

The lawsuit argues that Microsoft directly and willfully infringed SurfCast’s patent through its new Windows 8 products and that by selling the operating systems, it will induce its customers, partners and others to also infringe on SurfCast’s patent. SurfCast alleges that Microsoft “had knowledge of the ’403 patent at least as early as April 21, 2009.”

Patent notwithstanding however, SurfCast has not demonstrated that it has actually used its patent to develop anything. This, according to Arstechnica writer Jon Brodkin is what one would call a classic case of ”a patent troll”.

According to Brodkin, “Known as SurfCast and based in Portland, Maine, the company’s website shows that it has only one thing on its mind—patent litigation. The home page describes its “Operating System technology” without referencing any actual products, while the site’s “News” section contains only one item—the lawsuit (PDF) filed yesterday against Microsoft in US District Court in Maine.”

He adds that the website has remained unchanged since 2003, and “all that’s changed is how SurfCast describes its technology—the latest versions of its website have been edited to make SurfCast technology sound more like Microsoft’s.”

The website said it received an email from a Microsoft spokesman which said the company is “confident we will prove to the court that these claims are without merit and that Microsoft has created a unique user experience.”

Meanwhile, writer Matt Schruers said that the lawsuit was just another example of the inherent issues with patent legislation itself. “A patentee may certainly stop others from practicing the patent, but holding a patent is no guarantee that the patentee himself can actually produce anything with it, other than litigation”, he said. (Read more)

Still, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, if SurfCast is persistent enough – and if its legal resources run deep enough – it could manage to keep Microsoft tied up in court for some time to come.


3 blog comments below

Not the first time they get sued over things. Also I hate how the monopolize things as well.
darthrevan on Thu Nov 01, 2012 10:14 pm
Not surprising the way the patent system is set up. SurfCast had better have some really super deep pocket in order to fight Microsoft especially since they do not appear to have a 'live' product.
standready on Fri Nov 02, 2012 12:18 am
It will probably win, but not positive though. Microsoft is way too big, they figure they have enough money to not care about legal issues.
darthrevan on Fri Nov 02, 2012 2:02 am

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