Microsoft sued over use of live tiles in Windows

SurfCast filed a patent infringement lawsuit against the company, challenging a key interface element in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8

By , IDG News Service |  

Microsoft has been slapped with a patent infringement lawsuit over its use of dynamic "live" tile icons in Windows, including in the newly launched Windows 8 OS for PCs and tablets and in the Windows Phone 8 OS for smartphones.

SurfCast, based in Portland, Maine, filed its lawsuit on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, and is asking for Microsoft to pay an undetermined amount of money in damages and attorneys' fees.

At issue is U.S. Patent 6,724,403, titled "System and Method for Simultaneous Display of Multiple Information Sources," which SurfCast was awarded in 2004.

SurfCast takes issue with Windows' use of live tiles, which are rectangular or square icons in the Start screen of new Windows versions that provide links to applications, websites, contacts and other elements. SurfCast describes itself on its website as a designer of OS technology. It claims to have developed the live tile technology in the 1990s.

Unlike conventional icons, live tiles display dynamically-changing data about the element it links to, such as the number of unread messages in users' email inboxes and alerts about new notifications from their social networking accounts.

Live tiles are a key user interface feature in a variety of new Windows versions, including Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT, which is a Windows 8 version for devices that use ARM chips. Microsoft first used live tiles in Windows Phone 7.

Starting with Windows 7 and most significantly with the just-launched Windows 8 OS family, Microsoft redesigned the Windows user interface around the use of these tile icons, so as to optimize the OS for use with touchscreen tablets and smartphones.

Windows is a minor player in tablets and smartphones, whose sales have been booming in the past three years. Google's Android and Apple's iOS are the main OSes used in tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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