Microsoft attacked by patent troll; Facebook shakedown artist charged with fraud

TAGs: microsoft, patent troll, paul ceglia, surfcast, windows store

microsoft-patent-troll-facebookIrish bookie Paddy Power has become the first betting outfit to take up residence in the Windows Store, Microsoft’s version of Apple’s mobile App Store. Paddy’s Miomni-developed Premier League app has been adapted to the new Windows 8 platform, which Paddy online product manager James Grimes expects will become “hugely popular with consumers.”

Software titan Microsoft only just rebranded its Windows Store after its previous ‘Metro apps’ designation apparently irked German retail conglomerate Metro AG, which filed a trademark dispute. Microsoft hastily rechristened its product, despite the fact that the German company’s business really has nothing to do with software and use of the word ‘Metro’ is fairly commonplace among transit systems, airports and the like. (Are self-described ‘metrosexual’ men next on the German retailer’s hit list?) Microsoft has attempted to put a brave face on the kerfuffle, saying Metro was only an internal description prompted by the look and feel of its new operating system’s interface. Unfortunately, that week-old interface has already been slapped with new litigation in the form of a patent suit.

Surfcast, a Maine-based company, says Windows 8’s Live Tiles feature infringes on one of Surfcast’s patents. Patent No. 6,724,403 (aka the ‘403 patent) is a “System and Method For Simultaneous Display of Multiple Information Sources” that was granted in 2004 to its two inventors, who subsequently assigned all rights in the patent to Surfcast. Microsoft has rebutted Surfcast’s allegations by pointing out that it holds its own patent for a ‘tile space user interface for mobile devices’ issued in 2011. Nevertheless, Surfcast claims Windows 8’s tiling feature will induce other developers to infringe on the ‘403 patent, and thus Microsoft should pay Surfcast several kajillion dollars in damages.

The problem with Surfcast’s argument is that the company doesn’t actually appear to have done anything with the ‘403 patent, begging the question as to how much damage – if any – the company could have suffered. In fact, Surfcast doesn’t appear to do much at all beside sue companies that do make things. More of Surfcast’s principals have backgrounds in the banking and venture capital sectors than the software field, suggesting the company’s interest lies more in creating wealth from the labors of others via the tried and true ‘patent troll’ method utilized by pond scum like 1st Technology’s Scott Lewis. Seriously, if anyone can design and develop an industrial scale ‘guillotine with conveyor belt troll feeder system’, we’ll happily underwrite the patent application fee.

In a more positive development for legitimate entrepreneurs everywhere, a man who claimed he was owed an 84% stake in social network Facebook has been charged with fraud. In 2010, Paul Ceglia (pictured right) filed suit against Facebook, claiming to have signed a contract with founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2003 that entitled Celiga to a 50% stake in the company, although Ceglia claimed that time and interest had boosted his rightful stake to 84%. Ceglia, who already had a felony fraud conviction on his record, claimed to have retained email exchanges between himself and Zuckerberg that supported his outlandish suit.

Those documents have since been judged to be fraudulent, resulting in Ceglia’s arrest on Oct. 26 on charges that he both fabricated and destroyed evidence relating to the lawsuit. Facebook’s attorneys had always maintained that the two-page contract Ceglia signed with Zuckerberg was for street-mapping software and that Ceglia had subsequently substituted a bogus first page that included direct references to Facebook. US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara (of Black Friday fame) agreed, saying Ceglia was in pursuit of a “quick payday based on a blatant forgery.”

Questions are now being directed at Ceglia’s high-profile attorneys, who were all too willing – initially, at least – to swallow Ceglia’s whopper in the hopes of a lucrative cut of the anticipated settlement. The fraud case against Ceglia notes that the bogus page one had different spacing, columns and margins than the genuine page two, which should have been immediately apparent to any observer not willfully blinded by the giant dollar signs in their eyes. Facebook attorney Orin Synder released a statement on Monday in which he stated the social network “intends to hold accountable all of those who assisted Ceglia in this outrageous fraud. Facebook will send a strong message that it does not tolerate legal shakedowns and will take aggressive action against all those who file abusive lawsuits against the company.”


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