Print 76 comment(s) - last by acer905.. on Nov 2 at 12:43 PM

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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Similar...but is it really?
By BSquared on 10/31/2012 4:06:35 PM , Rating: 2
Reading through the patent, sounded like the SurfCast implementation was meant as a desktop app that thumbnailed actual programs running (as well as applets that aggregate)...sort of like what Windows Flip does. In fact, if you rename tiles to icons, it matched a lot of early DWM's you could grab back in Win 9X days that did exactly as this patent describes, albeit not as "fancy" given that web services weren't prevalent as they are today. It also explains a central server based aggregator service to be used to funnel all web scraped information...I don't believe live tiles does that.

They sound like they sat on this patent issue until Windows 8/WP8/XBox experience, etc were simul-released, in order to maximize damage rewards. Since live tiles were known from MS since the announcement of both Metro and WP7, which has been public knowledge since 2009. I sense that they could have approached MS, or sent a legal warning, at that time to cease usage or work on licensing. Since MS also cited Surfcast in their own patent, it shows they knew of it, and maybe they found that the only similarity was the aesthetics and not the mechanism. Who really knows. Maybe it really took awhile for lawyers to be hired and the suit filed. In any case, I'd love to hear both sides of this issue as the case develops.

RE: Similar...but is it really?
By encia on 10/31/2012 8:46:21 PM , Rating: 2
Windows Phone 7.0 wasn't the first Windows release with tiles i.e. Windows 1.0 (1985).

RE: Similar...but is it really?
By Smilin on 10/31/2012 10:02:08 PM , Rating: 2
I think that's probably part of why MS cited their patent as prior art. There are similar "squares that update" going all the way back to PARC labs. It takes a bit more than that to constitute an original idea.

RE: Similar...but is it really?
By acer905 on 11/2/2012 12:43:02 PM , Rating: 2
Beyond just that, the claims themselves differentiate this from MS's implementation.

13. The method of claim 1 wherein a unit tile size is associated with said array of tiles, dependent upon a maximum number of tiles displayed vertically and a maximum number of tiles displayed horizontally , and wherein each tile in said array of tiles has a fixed size that is equal to said unit tile size, or a multiple thereof.

14. The method of claim 1 wherein said array is displayed in a web-browser .

Based on that, their system has a fixed size and the tile size is a factor of the fixed size and the number of tiles, unlike the MS approach. And, it is web based!

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

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