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Microsoft finds itself on the defensive for once

Somewhere in Germany sit stocks of handsets from Google Inc. (GOOG) subsidiary Motorola Mobility.  The handsets were seized by German authorities after the courts found that the onboard mobile operating system likely violated user interface and file system patents owned by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) makers of the ubiquitous Windows operating system.  Soon the handsets may be destroyed.

But after preying on newcomers to the operating system world like Google's Android handset partners with a pay-or-be-sued approach, Microsoft finds itself in the crosshairs of a major mobile suit that could compromise its most critical platform launch -- the Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 rollout.

The case lands in an unusual jurisdiction -- U.S. District Court for the District of Maine  -- far from Microsoft's home on the West Coast.  The suit alleges Microsoft "stole" the concept Live Tiles, which the plaintiffs claim they invented in 2000 and received a patent for in 2004, with U.S. Patent 6,724,403.

Customizable Live Tiles in Windows Phone 8

The owners founded a startup named SurfCast.  They describe it, writing:

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.

Tiles can provide dynamic bookmarking -- an at-a-glance view of the current status of the program, file, or content associated with it.

Tiles enable people to have all their content, applications, and resources, regardless of whether on their mobile device, tablet, computer, or in their Cloud -- visualized persistently -- dynamically updating.

It's hard to deny Microsoft's Live Tiles narrowly mirror the technology described in SurfStar's patents, which came out before the Live Tiles landed as part of the "Metro UI" in Windows Phone's 2009 launch.

SurfStar v. Microsoft
SurfStar's Live Tiles (left) are uncannily like Microsoft's Live Tiles (right).

Microsoft appears to have known for some time about SurfStar's IP, so this suit shouldn't come as a big surprise.  The electronics giant in 2005 tried to patent Live Tiles with U.S. Patent 7,933,632.  The patent was finally granted in 2011, but only after Microsoft cited SurfStar's "relevant prior art".

The SurfStar suit targets "Windows Phone, Microsoft Surface with the Windows RT Operating System, Microsoft Windows RT, Microsoft Windows 8, Microsoft Windows 8 Pro, and Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise Operating System" -- pretty much all of Microsoft's next-gen operating system platform. SurfStar also suggest that devices with Windows 8 or Windows 8 apps that use animated Live Tiles may also be in infringement and potentially liable for future damages.

SurfStar asks the court to force Microsoft to "account and pay to SurfCast all damages caused to SurfCast by reason of Microsoft’s patent infringement."

On the surface (no pun intended) it appears that SurfStar has a compelling and valid case, but it's always hard to pick out savvy trolls from earnest inventors.  Either way, the turn of events is certainly highly ironic, given the hell Microsoft has put Android through in terms of aggressive intellectual property threats and litigation.

Source: Prior Smart

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Just read correctly, and why a TROLL?
By Aries1470 on 10/31/2012 3:15:29 PM , Rating: 1
Geez, don't you just love it when some people just can not read, or do not read properly.

Clearly stated:

"The suit alleges Microsoft "stole" the concept Live Tiles, which the plaintiffs claim they invented in 2000 and receive a patent for in 2004, with U.S. Patent 6,724,403."
It took them a good 4 years to receive it, makes you wonder why it took so long in the first place.

They received a patent.
Microsoft appears to have known for some time about SurfStar's IP, so this suit shouldn't come as a big surprise. The electronics giant in 2005 tried to patent Live Tiles with U.S. Patent 7,933,632. The patent was finally granted in 2011, but only after Microsoft cited SurfStar's "relevant prior art".
Wonder why it took them 6 years, maybe because they needed to include "Cite Prior Art"... so , They needed to CITE PRIOR ART.

As a patent holder, you may have had talks, may not been made aware, since lets face it, not many winmo phones are sold... in many places in the world, and to be a devils advocate, AS A PATENT HOLDER, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SUE WHEN EVER YOU CAN AND CAN AFFORD TO DO SO!! Maybe they are a "smallish" company, and did not have the deep pockets needed, or they just got a "pro-bono" lawyer... patent suits are very expensive and can easily run in the millions!

This article just does not site the reason for why they have not sued before now.

So, all your reasons are speculations at best, until you find actual and factual links citing the reasons for the delay.

Shheees.... it is after all, the "American Patent" system, not to mention that many other countries are similar now... with a broken system that is in dire need of fixing.

It should have been: make at least a prototype and get your patent, or at least make it within a set amount of time. Lower the price if the applicant is a small entity, or very small business, that has not been made by a huge corp... .... the system is already crying ...---...

By the way, the definition of a TROLL for me is, Companies that buy patents from small business's or individuals, and then go after infringers and do NOT pay any royalties except a small token amount to the original developer!

RE: Just read correctly, and why a TROLL?
By Denigrate on 10/31/2012 4:06:59 PM , Rating: 2
They are a troll by definition of coming up with an idea, then doing absolutely nothing with it. Then when someone comes up with a similar idea, and can monetize it, they sue.

RE: Just read correctly, and why a TROLL?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/31/2012 4:13:12 PM , Rating: 2
Yup small companies shouldn't come up with technology ideas unless they can afford the billions of dollars involved in launching a new product themselves.

Brilliant analysis there Denigrate. Our economy would clearly be booming if your points of view were prevalent.

By hankw on 10/31/2012 5:29:04 PM , Rating: 2
What they ought to do is shorten the life of software patents to only a few years. Hightech, especially software, moves at a much faster pace than other industries. If you come out with a great idea, why let it stagnate? Either release it ASAP, or sell the idea to the highest bidder and let someone else release it. Either way you'd still make good money.

By Denigrate on 11/1/2012 9:41:40 AM , Rating: 2
So if the "Live Tile" company thought their idea was so great, and that it should be implemented, why didn't they go out and try to sell it instead of sitting on it for years?

By BifurcatedBoat on 11/2/2012 3:41:26 AM , Rating: 2
Is an animated icon a novel idea worthy of protection to you?

What's the fundamental difference between that and an animated GIF used as a hyperlink on a webpage from 1992?

Maybe someone should have patented it back then.

"Wait, I can make an image hyperlink... and I can make an animated GIF... What if I combine the two together? This is an absolute genius idea that no ordinary human could have ever hoped to think up. Time to get a patent!"

By encia on 10/31/2012 7:06:25 PM , Rating: 2

MS Windows 1.0's tiled window layout.

By BifurcatedBoat on 11/2/2012 3:32:37 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is that the "concept" of tiles SHOULD NOT BE PATENTABLE. It's an idea. The implementation is in the code. Did MS copy their code to get live tiles to work? No. This company probably doesn't even have a working version of what they patented. That's what's so broken about patents related to software. You should have a right to your source code, and nothing more.

If someone else creates software that performs the same function as your software, but they do not directly copy any of your code or images, then they may have built on your idea, but they should NOT be considered infringing on your IP. Ideas are not supposed to be patentable. That's a core tenet of the patent system that's being violated daily in the tech industry.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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