Patent lawsuit gives Microsoft a rock for Halloween

Just in time for Windows 8 to hit the market, an otherwise dormant company out of Maine hits Microsoft with a patent lawsuit regarding what used to be called the 'Metro' UI.

Just as Microsoft launched Windows 8, out comes the patent troll. Microsoft has just been sued by an unknown operating system technology firm over the use of animated tiles in the Windows 8 UI.

SurfCast, based in Portland, Maine, has no products on the market but does claim ownership of four patents. That should sound familiar. The four patents -- 6,724,4037,028,2647,376,907 and 7,987,431 – all cover a "System and method for simultaneous display of multiple information sources." Ironically, all four patents cite prior Microsoft patents in their filing as prior art.

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The company is showing all the signs of a "patent troll," since they seemed to wait until after the product launched before filing the suit. It also has no products on the market.

However, it's not entirely fair to reflexively label SurfCast a patent troll because of just the lawsuit. A patent troll just collects patents for the expressed purpose of filing lawsuits. This company has been in business since 1998 and did try to sell something with these four patents.

They do have a website, one that looks like it was made in 1995 with FrontPage. The list of founders and directors is rather impressive, with people who've done time at IBM and Cisco.

By 2001, it was promoting a "patent pending user interface technology [that] enables the simultaneous display and management of multiple data streams." The first application of the SurfCast technology was the Broadband Browser, a system and method for the simultaneous display and management of multiple datastreams. The Broadband Browser integrates browsing (websites, webcasts, television programming, MP3 clips), communication (email, instant messaging, chat, telephony, collaboration, video conferencing) and authoring/editing (XML, Word, Acrobat, etc) into a unified interface and environment.

How far they went is unclear. It is clear that the company wasn't much of a success, and likely a victim of the Dot Bomb era. I think this is the first software company I've seen in Maine. But at least it's still around, somehow.

SurfCast didn't respond to my inquiry as of press time, so I have no idea how hard it tried to sell its products, or if it made any attempt to settle with Microsoft prior to the launch of Windows 8.

For its part, a Microsoft spokesperson offered the usual canned response.

"We are confident we will prove to the court that these claims are without merit and that Microsoft has created a unique user experience."

That, of course, probably means a settlement.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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