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Summary:

Thermostat giant Honeywell has filed a lawsuit alleging patent infringement by the buzzy Silicon Valley startup Nest, which makes a smart learning thermostat.

The Nest thermostat (in cooling mode).

The Nest thermostat (in cooling mode).

Thermostat giant Honeywell has filed a lawsuit alleging patent infringement by the buzzy Silicon Valley startup Nest Labs, which makes a smart learning thermostat. Honeywell has spent decades developing thermostat technology and just last week the company told me it had developed and tested learning thermostat technology, like the kind Nest has introduced, but that it had decided not to commercialize the learning tech after weak user response.

Honeywell says its patent infringement lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota and also targets Best Buy that sells the Nest tech, applies to thermostat intellectual property including:

  • Natural Language Installer Set Up for Controller
  • Controller Interface with Dynamic Schedule Display
  • HVAC Controller
  • Thermostat with Mechanical User Interface
  • Thermostat with Offset Drive
  • Power Stealing Control Devices
  • Profile Based Method for Deriving a Temperature Setpoint Using a ‘Delta’ Based On Cross-Indexing a Received Price-Point Level Signal.

Beth Wozniak, president, Honeywell Environmental and Combustion Controls, said in a statement about the lawsuit that “Competition is good and we welcome it, but we will not stand by while competitors, large or small, offer products that infringe on our intellectual property.”

I met with Wozniak last week and she told me that connected thermostats are still a small part of Honeywell’s overall thermostat sales, and that it’s the very early days of the connected thermostat market. Honeywell sells a whole host of other connected home products such as humidifiers and security systems, and a “total connected home system.” Honeywell has been focused on adding intelligence to digital and connected thermostats through simple UI, mobile apps, and partnerships like its one with Opower.

Energy software startup Opower will be providing the analytics and data to help Honeywell use home and building thermostats for demand response programs, where utilities can ask home owners to turn down their heating and cooling slightly during peak times of day. The Opower thermostats are being piloted with utilities right now, including at PG&E.

Nest officially launched its learning thermostat late last year, and the product was designed and created by Tony Fadell, the former chief architect at Apple, who led the development of the iPod and the first three versions of the iPhone. The company is backed by funding from Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures and Al Gore’s investment fund. Nest says it has developed the world’s first learning thermostat and that its thermostat can save home owners 20 to 30 percent on their energy bills.

Here’s an unboxing of the Nest thermostat:

And an onstage interview with Tony Fadell, founder of Nest:

  1. This is why the US economy is in the state it is in. Large companies sit on patents, doing nothing with them. Small start-ups that do the actual innovating get squashed by them…

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    1. what “actual innovating” did Nest do, if Honeywell’s patents are valid? and who are you or I to judge what constitutes “sitting on patents.” Apple sat on the sidelines for years nefore it entered the smartphone market, because they — wisely — perceived the market wasn’t ready, for any number of reasons. why is honeywell any different? silicon valley wears it egalitarianism proudly, but its actually a bunch of xeophobix snobs. honeywell? how DARE they!

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      1. I daren’t proclaim one way or the other, but patents are usually awarded to new technology. You wouldn’t patent something that simply combines two old technologies, like an umbrella with a watch in the handle. All the items listed by Honeywell in this article already exist and are used widely by their larger competitors in many ways in many commercial devices. The only difference would appear to be the market – domestic.

        My gut says this is quoshing.

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      2. Jeremy Nicoll Monday, February 6, 2012

        If they researched and developed the methods themselves, they did plenty of innovating. Which leads to the problem of claiming vague ideas as property: if you’ve had an idea there probably are at least 20 people on the planet have also had the same idea. Ideas by themselves are worthless without implementation. We need to allow the do-ers to reap the rewards, and give deaf ear to the trolls who wish to sit back and do little and reap the profits of others.

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      3. 1. Read your Constitution. Intellectual property exists solely to encourage innovation. There is NO other reason. Allowing honeywell to patent an invention simply to prevent others from deploying not only does not encourage innovation, it actively prevents it.

        2. Who am I to judge what “sitting on patents” means? I’m a consumer that wants products that function like the NEST products. Honeywell has admitted that they have no intention of producing them. As a business owner, I sympathize with honeywell – they don’t have enough money to do all they would like – but that doesn’t give them the right to prevent other companies from doing it.

        3. Actual Innovation. Nest has a working product in the market place. Honeywell has never actually built any of these patented items, and never sold them – so Nest had nothing to copy. That’s called innovation.

        4. Apple did sit on the sidelines. They did not, however sue phone companies that tried to make smartphones while they sat on the sidelines. Waiting for a market to mature to enter is not the same as trying to prevent that market from forming until you want it to.

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  2. Lindsworth Horatio Deer Monday, February 6, 2012

    That’s like Microsoft taking the makers of LibreOffice to court over copying Office, when in fact Office software is so common and constitutes a small part of Microsoft’s overall revenue base. Worse, Unlocking Office 2010 is relatively easy, as detailed in my article below:

    http://www.geezam.com/legally-activate-installed-microsoft-products-office-2010/

    Honeywell, you need to really cool it on this one. Nest tech is what you SHOULD have done. Patent infringement for a product that Honeywell admits blatantly is not their core business anymore and is not even a marketed product is just straight Corporate Giant bullying a start-up over an idea they should have implemented years ago.

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  3. This strategy worked very well for Kodak.

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  4. saharadreamsmaroc Monday, February 6, 2012

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  5. Dana Blankenhorn Monday, February 6, 2012

    If you don’t produce a product and you have a patent, you are sitting on the patent. Period. There should be something in the patent law to prevent this, or at least to mandate licensing, otherwise the patent system runs against its own Constitutional intent.

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  6. Michael W. Perry Monday, February 6, 2012

    This is the all-too-predictable mess that has resulted from allowing software patents. Classic, mechanical patents only patented a particular way of doing something, say regulating the speed of a steam engine. That’s why you had to bring a working model to the patent office. And anyone who could achieve the same results with different hardware wasn’t violating the patent.

    Software patents typically patent an obvious step-by-step process to achieve a result. They’re more like: 1. Measure engine speed. 2. Compare that speed to desired speed. 3. Adjust speed up or down as necessary. Stated that generally, they leave no other way open to achieve get results.

    Software patents are really patents of what is done rather than how it is done. Those who create a software process should be limited to copyrighting their code rather than patenting the result of that code.

    Patent law is in this mess because for all too long it’s been driven by the USPTO bureaucracy and by patent lawyers. Both have a vested interested in expanding what can be patented and creating endless contention over what is a patent.

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  7. Fuck Intellectual Property Honeywell can go to fucking hell. This is why the us is going to hell. There should be a rule that a company can not just sit on patents. They should only have a couple of years to develop a product with the patent or it goes into the public domain!

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  8. I think I am going to copy something – almost no comments to articles explaining the technology and its release – a flurry of interest when Honeywell file to protect their IP. Did Nest need some free PR?

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  9. This is what you call “submarine patents.”

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  10. Thomas Shannon Monday, February 6, 2012

    That list of patents is total bull. How can you have a patent on “Natural Language Installer Set Up for Controller” or “Thermostat with Mechanical User Interface” (Just two examples)? This is just another case of a bigger company trying to shutdown a smaller one using BS patents.

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  11. Gagh. Just about to order one of these when I learned it’s funded partly by Algore money. No thanks.

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