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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 Smilin on 10/31/2012 3:49:07 PM , Rating: 5
Oh please.

1. Nobody knows the royalties paid but the participants.
2. It's rumored to be in the sub $5 range for most and I think one report for a max of $15 (your hyperbolic minimum)
3. If the patents were so flimsy the companies in question would not have settled. It isn't like they are some 10 employee small business that couldn't have afforded the litigation.
4. You have no clue what a bully is. A bully will have the courts yank your products off the shelf instead of negotiating royalties.
5. The post-Gates Microsoft takes the high road when things like this come along and they pay. They have happily licensed Apple patents in the surface for example.
6. Why didn't the "chickens come home to roost" back when tiles appears on Xbox and WP7? Why not when the Win8 developer preview released? Sense anything alterior perhaps?

Now that you've jumped out from behind the tree with your pants down yelling "gotcha" just simmer down and see how this actually plays out. IF there was an infringement I would be willing to bet you see a fair settlement.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/31/2012 4:00:43 PM , Rating: 2
People settle because it's usually cheaper than lawsuits. That doesn't mean, however, that they are just okay with the situation. It's like being offered the choice between being shot in a head, or having your face smashed with a baseball bat. Well...the bat would probably be less-bad, so okay I'll pick that.

The logic that big companies can afford litigation, so they should pursue it, is asinine. And it's possible that if MS had revealed what patents were so-called infringed on before hand, some may have decided to go that route.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Smilin on 10/31/2012 9:11:53 PM , Rating: 3
Not quite. People settle because the game changes when you get in front of jury. There are times when it is indeed cheaper to settle. But didn't you just say $20 per handset (shenanigans on that number anyway) but even at half that it would be worth taking things to court. Remember, the loser pays the legal fees.

MS absolutely revealed what patents were contested. They might not reveal it to you and me but they would have to reveal it during the settlement...otherwise you would have the stupidest lawyer on the planet to suggest a settlement. Give me a break Reclaimer.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By phatboye on 10/31/2012 5:01:31 PM , Rating: 2
1 & 2) does not matter how much they paid. be it $100/device or $0.01/device or $0.01 total.

3) MS wouldn't tell the companies they were threatening what patents they were suing for until after they agreed to settle. to scare them. Everyone knows MS has a shit ton of OS patents, no one would be stupid enough to even challenge that.

4) MS is a bully

5) Forcing your Android competitors to pay royalties for each device sold is definitely not an example of taking the high road.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Master Kenobi on 10/31/2012 7:45:18 PM , Rating: 2
Ironically Google has yet to defend a single Android manufacturer. Microsoft has. Frankly if you are a hardware company you would like it if your Software provider could use its large corporate influence to protect you from their rivals.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/31/2012 8:22:10 PM , Rating: 3
Okay I mean no offense, but I expect a staffer here at DT to have a little more technical knowledge than this.

Google absolutely cannot "defend" the manufacturers because they aren't responsible for the lawsuits. For example Samsung was sued by Apple, and lost, because of hardware designs of the phones itself and their custom "TouchWiz" Android UI scheme. None of this is Google's fault, therefore they can't just "defend" them in court.

You're making it seem like they are just being sued because they use Android, and I seriously doubt you don't know better. Honestly can we put this FUD to bed now? I'm tired of hearing how Google won't "defend" people from their own wrongdoings (in the eyes of the law).

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Smilin on 10/31/2012 9:22:44 PM , Rating: 2
It's not FUD in the slightest.

1. If you sell a device then you are liable for any patents that device infringes. (any disagreement so far?)
2. If some part of that device comes from elsewhere then you are still liable because you are the one manufacturing and selling it. (still with me?)
3. Microsoft agrees to indemnify anyone who is sued because of a part (the OS) that they supplied. (is this the part that is BS?)
4. Google does not. (am I lying yet?)

Explain to me which part is FUD?

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/31/2012 9:28:39 PM , Rating: 2
Uhh do I need to break this down?

1. Google didn't design or code the "TouchWiz" and HTC "Sense" UI's. Stock versions of Android are NOT being sued.

2. Google didn't design the phones which are being sued for infringing on Apple's designs

What is so hard for you to understand about this? Where do you see Google as being responsible? They aren't the ones who designed this stuff, or created the UI's being sued!

This argument is retarded, end of discussion. You. Are. Wrong.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Smilin on 10/31/2012 9:47:41 PM , Rating: 2
1. It does not have to be a stock version of android so long as an infringing part of android is still present. Stop acting like you know the details of the violation or settlement.
2. WTF Does apple have to do with an MS vs Android OEM settlement? Spare me the red herring and get back to which of the 4 statements above is false.

You are welcome to tell yourself that I am wrong but it doesn't make it so. Here, allow me to demonstrate...

You. Are. A. Monkey. (unless a banana just appeared in your hand when you read that then it's safe to say logic doesn't work that way)

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Reclaimer77 on 11/1/12, Rating: 0
RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By RufusM on 11/1/2012 12:01:20 PM , Rating: 2
Also, the original assumption was not correct. Google has assisted Samsung and HTC with litigation advice and some costs when it's been appropriate.

Having said that, Google should not be responsible for the last win Apple had over Samsung. Samsung's own internal communications clearly indicated a path of copying Apple's designs for the Galaxy S1 phone.

I dislike software design patents all together, but there are some things Google should keep its hands out of.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Smilin on 11/1/2012 12:29:49 PM , Rating: 2
You are correct. #4 in my point above is not 100% accurate. I had forgotten that there has been some limited assistance.

Wish I could +1 you for disagreeing with my own post. It's refreshing to have a conversation with a grown-up.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Smilin on 11/1/2012 12:24:44 PM , Rating: 2
If you want grown-ups to listen to you then act like one.

Instead of having an outright temper tantrum, begin by pointing out which of my assertions is incorrect:


It's not FUD in the slightest.

1. If you sell a device then you are liable for any patents that device infringes. (any disagreement so far?)
2. If some part of that device comes from elsewhere then you are still liable because you are the one manufacturing and selling it. (still with me?)
3. Microsoft agrees to indemnify anyone who is sued because of a part (the OS) that they supplied. (is this the part that is BS?)
4. Google does not. (am I lying yet?)

Explain to me which part is FUD?

It may very well be that the reason your point is not coming across is that you are explaining it inadequately, or it is flat out wrong . That doesn't seem to be a reality you are capable of facing so you keep getting mad at your reader.

I believe the flaw that your thoughts keep circling around is that you think you know the details of the settlement. In your mind it is exclusively hardware and UI. Since each settlement involves different hardware and UI yet contains the common Android OS it would imply otherwise. Yet here is the key: You don't know. Neither do I. One of us gets that we don't know it. The other is stomping around red faced and mad with spittle on their chin.

Grow up Reclaimer.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Smilin on 10/31/2012 9:06:00 PM , Rating: 2
MS wouldn't tell the companies they were threatening what patents they were suing for until after they agreed to settle.
Oh wow man, thanks for the laugh. If someone settled under such circumstances they would have the *stupidest lawyers on earth*. I don't think so. I'll just take "you're full of crap for 1000" Alex.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/31/2012 10:05:26 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry but that's how it went down. Google is your friend Smilin.

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By Smilin on 10/31/2012 10:12:07 PM , Rating: 2
Really now? Why don't you bust out your Google-jitsu and provide me any link whatsoever to the verbiage of the NDA settlements. Didn't think so. Stop acting like you have some insider details or that the tripe you are spewing should just be accepted as common know, just um, knows that!

RE: Karma's a $$#@*
By BifurcatedBoat on 11/2/2012 3:27:46 AM , Rating: 2
They settle because of what could happen if they don't.

You're assuming somehow that common sense prevails in modern US patent lawsuits, when in fact the evidence shows that nothing could be further from the case.

So if I can get a patent on something we might both actually think is obvious, but some random judge in his 60s or a handful of non-tech people off the street chosen to be the jury don't see it that way, it can cost you billions.

Do you take that risk, or do you just pay me what I'm asking and be done with it?

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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