Microsoft Sued Over Windows 8 User Interface

Dennis Faas's picture

Windows 8 has a totally new look and feel. But one company says it's not all that original and is suing Microsoft for copyright infringement.

Portland tech firm SurfCast is suing Microsoft over its use of "live tiles" on the main display screen, the one that appears whenever a user starts up Windows.

The tiles are the large rectangular blocks that link to various tools and applications; they're designed to make them easier to use on touchscreen devices.

The tiles don't actually have a fixed image or text and they update automatically by using Internet resources. For example, a weather tile might repeatedly update with an appropriate image and temperature reading. A mail tile could update with the number of new messages.

SurfCast says this process violates a patent it filed in the year 2000 that was granted in 2004, under the title "System and Method for Simultaneous Display of Information Sources." (Source:

Microsoft Says Live Tiles Are Original

Microsoft says the Windows 8 interface uses fresh technology. It's actually referred to SurfCast in its own patent filings, though in those cases Microsoft appeared to be stressing how its technology was different and therefore eligible for a unique patent.

Some analysts have suggested that SurfCast is a patent troll, simply buying up the rights to many patents and then suing other companies over alleged violations.

There is also some question about SurfCast's decision to wait until Windows 8 was on sale before launching the case. After all, Microsoft's use of a tile-based interface has been public knowledge for many months. (Source:

Complaint Could Make High Stakes Case

This lawsuit could be significant. First, it appears SurfCast may have access to funds that allow it to take the case to trial if necessary, rather than just angling for an early settlement.

Second, Microsoft's prior mention of SurfCast's patent could become a big factor in the case. If a court holds that Microsoft violated the patent, it might rule that the software giant did so willfully, knowing it was acting unlawfully and doing so regardless.

And that could lead to additional fines.

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