Another day, another technology-giant patent lawsuit. On the heels of high-profile cases like Apple vs. Samsung and Oracle vs. Google, the latest claim targets Microsoft and comes from SurfCast, a relatively low-profile operating-system maker.
SurfCast claims it owns the intellectual property for Live Tiles -- the most popular feature of Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system.
The Portland, Me.-based company filed suit against Microsoft on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Maine. It alleges that the dynamic tiles system used in both the computer and mobile versions of Windows 8 infringes on its 2004 patent for "System and Method for Simultaneous Display of Multiple Information Sources."
'We Had Tiles First'
"We developed the concept of Tiles in the 1990s, which was ahead of its time," SurfCast CEO Ovid Santoro said in a statement on the company's Web site Tuesday. "Microsoft's Live Tiles are the centerpiece of Microsoft's new operating systems and are covered by our patents."
A public relations company representing Microsoft did not respond to our e-mail and phone requests for comment in time for publication.
Live Tiles for Microsoft allows users to keep numerous windows open on their smartphone or computer home screen displaying up-to-date information, such as movie times, headlines, weather or sports scores.
The lawsuit is reminiscent of the four-year lawsuit by Apple against Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard in the late '80s and '90s over the graphic user interface Apple says it pioneered. The claim was ultimately denied and the ruling upheld on appeal. Outstanding issues were later resolved in negotiations.
Technology consultant Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group sees SurfCast as out of its league in this fight.
"They really aren't structured for a fight like [the one] they have taken on, and litigation in this area is far more expensive now than it was when these folks were active. And they are going after one of the best (Top 3) defended companies in the world," Enderle told us.
But he said the suit could potentially prove to be illuminating in establishing the boundaries of intellectual property.
"Defending this patent will be interesting as you could argue the concept of active tiles actually comes from a fixed form of having multiple windows open at once, something we had long before this patent was issued (prior art)," Enderle said.
"Also, given one of the patent authors has written technical Windows manuals and was at IBM he may be contaminated by either activity which could either invalidate the patent or compromise the ownership."
According to its Web site, 11-year-old SurfCast "designs operating system technology and has four issued patents with additional applications pending."
The company says its "new concept" of 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."