Windows 8 Release May Stir Legal Troubles For Microsoft, SurfCast Files Lawsuit Over Tiled Interface

 @LisaEadicicco on October 31 2012 1:56 PM

At the end of October, Microsoft held three major launches for products the company has been hyping for quite some time: Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and the Surface tablet.  However, while these new devices bring the long-time PC software maker into a new mobile-centric era, it could also spark some legal troubles.

Microsoft’s line of Windows 8 mobile and PC software is based on a tiled user interface. The Redmond, Wash.-based has boasted about its constantly updating Live Tiles feature, which provides a continuous feed of information from the cloud.

But SurfCast, an operating system technology based on a tiled layout, has filed a lawsuit against Microsoft for allegedly infringing on one of its patents, reported CNET.

SurfCast owns US Patent #6,724,403, which was initially filed on Oct. 2000 and issued in April 2004. Essentially, the ownership claim covers the act of selecting various information sources, assigning those sources to a tile, and then updating those tiles at refresh dates.

This sounds similar to Microsoft’s Live Tiles, but differs in one crucial aspect: SurfCast’s patent applies to “a device under control of a program” and an “electronic readable memory to direct an electronic device,” not software.

SurfCast is asking the U.S. District Court in Maine to decree that Microsoft has both directly and indirectly infringed on its patent, and wants the Windows company to “account for and pay to SurfCast all damages caused to SurfCast by reason of Microsoft’s patent infringement.”

“Microsoft had knowledge of the ‘403 patent at least as early as April 21, 2009,” SurfCast’s complaint said, according to CNET.

SurfCast detailed the difference between tiles and icons in the description found on its official website reproduced below:

"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 the Cloud—visualized persistently—dynamically updating.”

This isn’t the first time Windows 8 put the company at risk for a potential lawsuit. When Microsoft ditched the Metro name for its refreshed user interface, rumors sparked that the company was dodging legal issues with German retailer Metro AG.

Microsoft has yet to comment on the patent infringement charges from SurfCast.

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