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Windows 8 tiles infringed on our patent, says SurfCast

A Maine company claims that Microsoft used its live tile technology in Windows 8. 

By Matthew Shaer / October 31, 2012

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer displays a Nokia Lumia 920 running the Windows Phone 8 operating system during an event in San Francisco this week. A Maine company has alleged that Microsoft stole key design cues for the Windows 8 OS.

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After 1.24 billion hours of public testing in 190 countries, Windows 8 went live earlier this week. The latest version of the Microsoft operating system has been billed by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer as a "new era for Microsoft and our customers" – a distinct "tile" interface that plays well with traditional PCs and laptops and also smartphones and tablets. 

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But according to a lawsuit filed this week in Maine court, in developing Windows 8, Microsoft may have stolen a few design cues from a company called SurfCast. Several years ago, SurfCast representatives allege, the company came up with a system of "dynamically updating icons" – otherwise known as "tiles." Tiles, Horizons readers will remember, are an integral part of Microsoft 8. 

Now SurfCast is suing for an undisclosed amount of damages, Computerworld reports

"We developed the concept of Tiles in the 1990s, which was ahead of its time," Ovid Santoro, CEO of SurfCast said in a statement posted to the SurfCast site. "Microsoft’s Live Tiles are the centerpiece of Microsoft’s new Operating Systems and are covered by our patent."

So does SurfCast have a shot at making this lawsuit stick? Well, over at Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin calls the company a "patent troll." 

"SurfCast says it has suffered 'harm and injury' as a result of Microsoft's infringement," Brodkin writes. "But since SurfCast claims to have invented its tile-based technology in the 1990s and doesn't sell any products based upon it, it's hard to see how Microsoft's use of tiles in a brand-new operating system is costing the company any revenue." 

Still, if SurfCast is persistent enough – and if its legal resources run deep enough – it could manage to keep Microsoft tied up in court for some time to come. 

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