Small Firm Whips Out Live Tiles Patent Challenge

The Windows 8 Live Tiles user interface already is the subject of a lawsuit, less than a week after Microsoft officially launched the OS.

SurfCast, a small company that has no products of its own, filed suit in the Federal District Court of Maine alleging that Microsoft is infringing one of its patents with its Windows 8 and Surface products, among others.

SurfCast’s patent covers Microsoft’s Live Tiles, CEO Ovid Santoro said.

Surfcast declined to provide further details.

The Basis of SurfCast’s Ire

Santoro and Klaus Lagermann co-invented the technology for which SurfCast received U.S. Patent No. 6,724,403 B1 on April 20, 2004. They had filed for the patent on Oct. 30, 2000.

The technology is described as “a computerized method of presenting information from a variety of sources on a display device” and is platform-independent. It “comprises a graphical user interface which organizes content from a variety of information sources into a grid of tiles, each of which can refresh its content independently of the others.”

The grid functionality manages the refresh rates of the multiple information sources.

What Microsoft Offers

Microsoft was granted U.S. Patent 7,933,632 B2 on April 26, 2011, for a tile space user interface for mobile devices. It had filed for the patent on June 16, 2006.

This patent covers “systems and methods for providing a user interface for mobile devices, enabling data and services through the mobile device to be represented as a set of tiles maintained in a display space. The tiles provide a snapshot of the current state of content available through the mobile device without requiring any interaction by the user.”

The Passage of Time

Why SurfCast only filed suit now over Live Tiles is not clear, as Microsoft has for some time been trumpeting that Windows 8 will have a user interface with a tile metaphor.

“The timing of a suit concerning a product launch relates to when actual infringement occurs,” technology and patent attorney Raymond Van Dyke, principal at Van Dyke Law, told the E-Commerce Times. SurfCast could have alleged imminent harm previously but “it’s easier and better to wait until the actual infringement.” That also will “achieve maximum publicity and obtain considerable leverage in negotiating a settlement.”

Microsoft did cite the SurfCast patent as prior art, but that “may or may not be of relevance” because the issue is relative and there are many inter-related factors, Van Dyke said. “The issue is whether SurfCast has valid patents, and whether one or more claims in those patents are infringed by Microsoft.”

What Happens Next?

The patents in question will immediately be examined and might be challenged in proceedings in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Van Dyke said.

“The validity of those earlier SurfCast patents will be challenged by Microsoft,” Van Dyke continued. “If SurfCast has no products of its own, then Microsoft cannot challenge them to infringement. Thus, Microsoft has few remedies open to them.”

However, Microsoft is dismissing the claim.

“We are confident we will prove to the court that these claims are without merit and that Microsoft has created a unique user experience,” Microsoft spokesperson Britta Lokting told the E-Commerce Times.

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