Predator Becomes Prey: Microsoft Sued Over Windows 8, WinPhone "Live Tiles"
October 31, 2012 2:00 PM
Microsoft finds itself on the defensive for once
Somewhere in Germany sit stocks of handsets from Google Inc. (
) 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. (
) 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
, Microsoft finds itself in the crosshairs of a major mobile suit that could compromise its most critical platform launch -- the
Windows Phone 8
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
. 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'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.
"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings
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