Friday, February 10, 2012

Energy-Monitoring Companies Go to Battle

Energy-Monitoring Companies Go to Battle:

learning thermostat

OK, I’ll admit, I was trying to create one of the spiciest energy monitoring titles I could above—there just aren’t enough opportunities for that. But, truthfully, an innovative energy monitoring technology company created by one of the key inventors of the iPod and iPhone, Nest Labs, is facing a lawsuit from Honeywell, and it’s looking to accept the challenge.

There are plenty of energy monitoring companies popping up these days, so I don’t expect you to remember what Nest is all about off the top of your head. As a quick refresher, the company’s “learning thermostat” pays attention to your patterns and starts to adjust itself based on time of day within a couple of weeks of you controlling it. It’s got other features as well, of course, but that’s the big one. Here’s a video on the technology:

Honeywell filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Nest Labs (as well as retailer Best Buy and a couple other energy monitoring technology companies) this week and is trying to stop sales of the thermostat, claiming that the technology infringes on no less than 7 of its patents!

“We are focused on upholding the integrity of the hard work and development our company has put into its home comfort and residential control technologies,” Beth Wozniak, the president of Honeywell Environmental and Combustion Controls, said this week.

Here’s more from cnet‘s Martin LaMonica:

The text of the suit details a number of Honeywell patented technologies that it claims Nest Labs knowingly infringed. Among them is the ability to program the thermostat by having the consumer answer questions, such as “What temperatures do you like when you are away,” shown on the LCD display. Honeywell also claims that Nest infringed its “power stealing” technology, where the thermostat draws charge from electrical wires.

“Nest Labs knew, or should have known, contrary to its marketing campaign, 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,” it said in the suit.

The Nest thermostat is, reportedly, currently sold out. It costs $250.

Honeywell-Nest Lawsuit Could Have Wide-Ranging Impacts

Jeff St. John of Greentech Media speculates on the possible influence this could have on the energy-monitoring industry as a whole, as well, noting that “ the list of patents it accuses Nest of infringing on include a set of functions and features that appear to be in fairly widespread use by other companies and partnerships in the industry.”

Here’s more from Jeff on what those include:

Those include controlling thermostats with information stored in a remote location — i.e., the internet — which could potentially implicate anyone using “the cloud” to manage thermostats. Honeywell also accuses the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup of infringing on its “time to temperature” function that tells customers how long it will take for the house to reach a newly set temperature.

Other features, like Honeywell’s (and Nest’s) so-called “natural language” capabilities — that is, having the thermostat display questions that customers can answer to set up the device — seem to mirror the way other companies are planning to interact with homeowners. And its patent on “power stealing,” or sipping power from the home wiring to charge the thermostat battery, seems like a function most low-power devices would like to include as well.

Yes, hard to imagine all, at least, or most new energy monitoring technologies wouldn’t be including such features. Jeff has a lot more on the specifics of the patents if you’re interested.

Nest is to “Vigorously Defend” Itself

I’m not sure if that phrasing is a sign of confidence or a puffing up of the chest to try to look stronger in this case than it is. But, after taking a couple days to look over the lawsuit, Nest Labs released this statement:

“We at Nest are proud of creating products that bring true innovation to home efficiency and we are continuing to innovate and bring products to market. The Nest Learning Thermostat is already making a difference, saving customers energy and money. Nest will vigorously defend itself against Honeywell’s patent-attack strategy to stifle thoughtful competition and we have the resources, support and conviction to do so.”

What do you think? Is Honeywell right to call out Nest and others, or is it being a little-patent-obsessive and unrealistic?

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