An unusual technology entered the patent lawsuit theater on Monday when Honeywell International announced it was suing Nest Labs: Thermostat tech.
Now Nest says it plans to fight back.
Honeywell, a diversified technology and manufacturing company, is suing the startup over alleged infringement of seven of its thermostat tech patents.
In a statement to Mashable on Wednesday, Nest called the lawsuit a “patent-attack strategy to stifle competition” and said it will vigorously defend itself.
“We have the resources, support and conviction to do so,” the statement reads.
Nest’s first product, a $249 thermostat that operates more like an iPhone than an appliance, turned heads when it launched in October. Wired‘s Steven Levy called it a device that is “making home heating sexy.” Others compared its reinvention of the common thermostat to how Dyson reinvented the vacuum cleaner.
If Nest is, as it claims, the victim of a lawsuit brought on solely to shut it down, it wouldn’t be the first startup in its position. In 2010, 107,792 patents were issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. While the system was designed to protect innovation, many entrepreneurs cite times when it was instead used to stunt it.
Take, for instance, Luma Labs, which used to make a camera strap with a sling connector. After one of its competitors was granted a patent for its design, it discontinued the product to avoid a legal battle.
“The idea of a sliding camera sling isn’t an amazing new invention,” wrote Luma Labs’ founders in a blog post that explained why it was discontinuing its products. “It’s just a really good idea that’s been around for a while and which has been iteratively developed.”
Here are the patents Honeywell is claiming Nest infringes on:
U.S. Patent No. 7,634,504 – “Natural Language Installer Set Up for Controller”
U.S. Patent No. 7,142,948 – “Controller Interface with Dynamic Schedule Display”
U.S. Patent No. 7,584,899 – “HVAC Controller”
U.S. Patent No. 7,159,789 – “Thermostat with Mechanical User Interface”
U.S. Patent No. 7,159,790 – “Thermostat with Offset Drive”
U.S. Patent No. 7,476,988 – “Power Stealing Control Devices”
U.S. Patent No. 6,975,958 – “Profile Based Method for Deriving a Temperature Setpoint Using a ‘Delta’ Based On Cross-Indexing a Received Price-Point Level Signal.”
Whether or not Nest infringes on any of them will be left to legal experts. But on a common-sense level, it’s hard to see how any of these constitute a ripoff. What kind of modern thermostat would you create, for instance, that doesn’t have some sort of controller interface with dynamic schedule display?
It’s not that Honeywell is doing anything particular vicious or unusual by playing patent offense. Patent lawsuits have become so prevalent in technology that Google cited them as one reason it wants to pay $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility. It does, however, bring up questions about the point of patents in the first place. Some startups feel the system is misguided.
“Patents are a good idea that have been appropriated over the decades as a corporate tool for establishing limits to competition,” wrote Luma Labs’ founders, “no matter if the ideas described by those patents are truly inventive.”
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