43 Comments

Summary:

Thermostat giant Honeywell has slapped startup Nest, and retailer Best Buy, with a lawsuit over patent infringement for smart thermostat technology. I read the lawsuit so you don’t have to and here’s the details you need to know:

Nest at Best Buy

On Monday morning, thermostat giant Honeywell surprised the world by slapping startup Nest, and retailer Best Buy, with a lawsuit over patent infringement for smart thermostat technology. According to the lawsuit document, Honeywell says that “Honeywell — not Nest Labs — is responsible for many of the ideas that Nest Labs touts as revolutionary, and that many features of the Nest Thermostat infringe Honeywell patents.”

Nest sent me its official response this morning which is: “We have not yet reviewed the actual filing, which we learned about this morning through Honeywell’s press release. We will provide comment once we’ve had the opportunity to review it.”

So what technology is Honeywell talking about specifically? Oh, only the some key features of the Nest device including the outer controlling ring dial, the interview questions to start programming the thermostat, tech around being able to control the thermostat via the Internet, the Nest “Time to Temperature” function, and the way that the Nest thermostat diverts small amounts of power from the house’s electrical load to power itself. Here’s the details:

Natural Language Installer Setup for Controller (504): This is essentially the set of questions that programmable thermostats can ask the owner, like “What temperature do you like when the heat is on?” and “What time do you get up in the morning?” and “What time do you go to sleep at night.” Honeywell says it already offers this type of question set for its Prestige 2.0 smart thermostat line and it owns a patent for this.

Controller Interface with Dynamic Schedule Display (948): This pertains to interface features that make it easier to operate a thermostat and reduce energy like Nest’s “time to temperature” function. The time to temperature function displays how long it will take for the room to heat up or cool down to the desired temperature, so that the user isn’t tempted to set the thermostat too high or low to speed up the time to comfort.

Profile Based Method for Deriving a Temperature Setpoint Using a Delta Based on Cross Indexing a Received Price Point Level Signal (958): This patent includes methods for reducing energy costs by controlling a thermostat with information stored in a remote location. This is essentially about controlling a thermostat remotely through the Internet. This seems like a broad one, so I’ll leave it to the legal buffs to make a call on it.

HVAC Controller (899): Honeywell says it has a patent for technology around the rotatable ring that is used to control the Nest thermostat. That’s Nests highlighted main design point: it’s Nest ring.

Thermostat with mechanical user interface (789) and Thermostat with Offset Drive (790): These ones discuss placing a non-rotating part near or inside a rotating part, while still enabling the rotating part to control the function. Essentially this is another patent that says the Nest Ring violates Honeywell’s IP.

Power Stealing Control Devices (988): This patent covers the way that the Nest thermostat powers itself by “diverting or skimming” small amounts of charge from the heating and cooling power load. This includes a switch and a circuit to divert power from the home’s electrical system to the thermostat.

And finally, while this isn’t a Honeywell patent, Honeywell includes an image of a Kohler temperature controller for the Mira Platinum Wireless Shower product, which it points out looks “strikingly similar” to the Nest design:

  1. I dont think Honeywell has anything like this in their product line up do they?

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    1. @fernpick, It’s interesting, last week, Honeywell told me that it had tested out a learning thermostat tech about twenty years ago, but that users didn’t seem to want it, so it ditched it. http://gigaom.com/cleantech/honeywell-20-years-ago-we-killed-off-our-learning-thermostats/

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      1. I’m thinking any “learning thermostat” from 20 years ago would be a significantly different animal than the Nest though.

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  2. Does honeywell have this kind of tsat?

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  3. MichaelBrianBentley Monday, February 6, 2012

    The “Natural Language Installer Setup” patent wouldn’t cover the configuration of a variety of device setup like cars, printers, smart phones, wireless routers, fax machines…?

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  4. MichaelBrianBentley Monday, February 6, 2012

    Regarding the ring control, Honeywell seems to have been using a similar mechanism for quite a while. I’m curious whether there’s enough similarity between the ring control they patented and the ring control on early iPods?

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  5. @MichaelBrianBentley, Just to be clear, I didn’t do any legal research on the merits of the lawsuit, and I was just trying to highlight what tech Honeywell is actually going after at Nest. But anyone feel free to please weigh in on how well you think the lawsuit will do, or will not do!

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    1. Katie

      You’ve done a good job but with the 504 patent you’ve picked figures that aren’t covered by the claims.

      The claims require there to be two or more displayed answers to select from i.e multiple choice. Having an editable temperature doesn’t fall within the scope of the claims. Figures 8C-8E would be better.

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  6. And thus the problem with patents. Isn’t most of this glaringly obvious? Hrm, I need power for the device. I can use batteries, or maybe feed off of the existing power!

    Or, the user needs to set this up. Why not make it easy and ask obvious questions. I’m a thermostat, so I’d like to know what temperature you want the room to be at certain times. Seems pretty obvious.

    And as for the “ring” design, weren’t old-school thermostats built with a ring design? This has been around forever, so what’s the big deal?

    Oh, right.. Nest is REALLY popular and HoneyWell feels threatened. Why not use these overly broad patents to fight the new guys who probably don’t have the capital to deal with a lawsuit.

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    1. the old school thermostat with ring design was… honeywell

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      1. So what? I’ve seen the old school thermostat with ring since I was a little kid, over thirty years ago. Patents are temporary for a reason.

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      2. Agreed, the circle/dial has been around too long to still be applicable.

        Most of this suit seems weak and if they push it, and I were Nest, I’d just make the whole interface touch(screw the dial). Honeywell looks stupid here especially because they don’t even have a product that competes directly.

        Patents need reform…..badly. These overly broad imaginings called patents are doing to ruin our countries ability to survive the Chinese’s onslaught. They don’t care about patents. They’ll scan you and build a copy of you in 3 days flat :)

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  7. Evidently,Nest is busted,which will be ironed out in court. The head and most of Nest members are from Apple and that’s typical of Apple culture which is steal/copy from others; call it “magical”.And if someone does the same for, they sue sue and sue.

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    1. Get over Apple already!

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  8. With 6 billion people in the work, more than 1 will usually figure the same things out. Because of this, patents are stupid. Utterly stupid.

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    1. What is broken is the way we enforce patents, and possibly patent lengths for certain types of patents. Courts keep enforcing patents as if the ideas behind the patents can be owned, which is as you say, utterly stupid.

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  9. Callum Masson Monday, February 6, 2012

    The question will become whether Nest can afford to fight the fight which in turn will be sized by what Honeywell wants to achieve.

    It would be interesting to see how many new ways you can design a thermostat.

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    1. The same question could be asked, how many ways you design a square or rectangular tablet,which is one of Apple’s patent law suits against the competition in courts around the globe.

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      1. The difference Monday, February 6, 2012

        A major difference is that Apple actually invented and released the product. Honeywell is just being a patent troll on obvious, unenforceable patents.

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  10. Maybe they should just sell to Honeywell and then Honeywell can own the rest of the patents.

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    1. Maybe they can suck it up in the court room like everyone else does. Nest came to the market with plenty of brains and money behind them, they had to have done patent searches. They had to know something like this would be happening, sooner than later. Sorry, there should be no mercy here. If they lose in court then they will be paying licensing fees. Maybe that was already built into the $250 price tag.

      It’s a cool product with a huge price. If they didn’t spend time and money doing a patent search ahead of production, then I would be in total disbelief.

      Too bad, so sad.

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      1. If Honeywell had a thermostat as beautifully designed and attractive as the Nest, they wouldn’t feel so threatened, but they don’t. Their loss.

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