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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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RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Aries1470 on 10/31/2012 3:19:07 PM , Rating: 2
Totally agree :)
Would give thumbs up - +1, but... it does not allow me to vote :(

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By phatboye on 10/31/2012 4:33:52 PM , Rating: 3
This site no longer allows me to vote either, do you know why? I can't seem to figure this out. The weird thing is that as you can see I can I can reply to posts just fine.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Schadenfroh on 10/31/2012 5:58:36 PM , Rating: 4
The solution is to stop posting... once you reply, you forfeit your vote and your right to vote. The lurkers are the judges of the worthiness of threads here.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By phatboye on 10/31/2012 6:19:27 PM , Rating: 4
It's not that, even in post where I don't reply in, this site does not allow me to vote. I initially though it was because an admin must have banned me for something but I don't ever remember getting any notice for from the administration for anything.

The fact that I can still post makes it even more suspect.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By MaulBall789 on 10/31/2012 7:01:55 PM , Rating: 5
I've noticed this too, but today found a workaround. Right click on the "worth reading" or "not worth reading" link and and select "open in new tab". Vote is recorded in the new tab.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Schadenfroh on 10/31/2012 8:54:01 PM , Rating: 5
Have you tried hitting F5 / refreshing the page after you vote? Mine does not reflect my vote until I refresh the page.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By frobizzle on 11/1/2012 9:34:04 AM , Rating: 2
Another workaround. After you vote on a posting, you can go up to the "Threshold" drop down box, click change (you don't need to actually change the threshold) and your vote will be recorded.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By maugrimtr on 11/1/2012 9:49:25 AM , Rating: 2
I'm guessing this is a Javascript error in updating the vote count on the current page. Anything that triggers a refresh would correctly show your vote as recorded (same problem here using Firefox).

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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