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Update: Did Microsoft Knock Off Windows’ Live Tiles?

While Apple and Google have been aggressively carving up the mobile market, Microsoft has been sheltered away in a dark basement somewhere, striving to create a unique interface competitive enough to give it a fighting chance.

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They came up with live tiles: little friendly icons which feed real time information to a touch friendly interface. It was formerly referred to as Metro (a lawsuit put an end to that) and it is now the interface used for Windows 8 smartphones, tablets and notebooks, ending the reign of the nefarious Start button.

But it now appears live tiles wasn’t Microsoft’s stroke of brilliance. John Davidson of the Financial Review has pointed out a small technology company founded by ex-IBM executives, called SurfCast, has complained Microsoft’s newly default home screen infringes four of their patents. SurfCast claim they thought of the concept a decade ago and, on their unusually bare website, they offer their take on the interface:

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.

A picture of live tiles taken from SurfCast’s Patent, No. 6,724,403, filed in 2004

A patent describing such an interface was issued to SurfCast in April of 2004; five years before Microsoft debuted the interface on Windows Phone 7.

SurfCast’s CEO, Ovid Santoro, put out the following statement:

We developed the concept of Tiles in the 1990s, which was ahead of its time. Microsoft’s Live Tiles are the centerpiece of Microsoft’s new Operating Systems and are covered by our patent.

Windows Phone 7 first modelled Microsoft’s iteration of Live Tiles

The live-tile interface is a big part of Windows 8’s identity as it is representative of the company’s shift to modern-day touch. It’s hard to shake the feeling SurfCast strategically timed their motion, as Windows Phone 7 first debuted the live tile interface two years earlier, and that’s just something you’d expect ex-IBM executives to notice. But now, the entire Windows ecosystem is dressed in the said patent-infringing interface, giving them an advantageous negotiating position.

Does anyone else hear the words “licencing deal”? 

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson told Smarthouse Microsoft “will prove to the court that these claims are without merit and that Microsoft has created a unique user experience.”