SurfCast Sues Microsoft: Evolving Vaporware to Legal Action


Today SurfCast, Inc. filed suit against Microsoft for violating a patent related to "live tiles." Brief research into SurfCast provides surprising insight into the company's past. It seems the company may have initially intended to produce a real product, but not the product they lead you to believe. SurfCast 1.0 was a client application that could take video streams, email, or websites and dump them into a grid with auto-refresh functionality. This is closer in functionality to a video surveillance system endpoint than an operating system -- and far from the "live tile" system it is filing suit over.

SurfCast owns US Patent #6,724,403, which was filed in October 2000 and issued in April 2004. Broadly, the patent covers selecting a variety of information sources, assigning each of those sources to a tile, and updating those tiles at variable refresh rates. That's very much what Microsoft's Live Tiles do, but there's a catch: SurfCast's patent claims are for "a device under control of a program" and "an electronic readable memory to direct an electronic device," not pure software.

The Verge

SurfCast does own patents for a "live tile" interface, but they product they began to develop bears no resemblance. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft take this to trial or not. With the recent production of the Surface tablet and hints at a Surface phone the patent language might just stick.

The company does not appear to produce or sell any products any longer, but has conveniently evolved its website statements to mirror Microsoft's strategies with the Metro (now Modern UI) design language following MS product announcements. It does not appear that SurfCast ever had products for phone, tablet, or desktop operating system, but indicated that was their intention on their homepage following Windows Phone 7/7.5 availability in 2010/2011 and Windows 8 availability for late 2012. Check out some of the screenshots (and even a downloadable copy of SurfCast beta) below from the Internet Archive.

Information gathered from the Internet Archive shows the SurfCast website appears to have been virtually unchanged from early 2003 to approximately March 2009. The site began to see changes following Microsoft product announcements using tile based designs.


Download: SurfCast 1.0 via The Internet Archive


Bloomberg via SurfCast 1.0


News Aggregation via Surfcast 1.0


Following the release of Windows Phone 7 in late 2010 SurfCast conveniently shifted its company's focus to that of a smartphone technology company and first mentioned their use of tiles.

June 2011 - The Internet Archive


The current view from the SurfCast home page now indicates they are designers of Operating System technology and touts their patents involving 'Tiles.' This first appeared after the Windows 8 Operating System release.

October 2012 -