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Patents The Courts

Honeywell Vs Nest: When the Establishment Sues Silicon Valley 228

Posted by Soulskill
from the going-for-the-jugular dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this quote from an article at TechCrunch: "Honeywell filed a multi-patent infringement lawsuit against Nest Labs and Best Buy yesterday. The suit alleges that Nest Labs is infringing on seven Honeywell patents. Honeywell is not seeking licensing fees. The consumer electronic conglomerate wants Nest Labs to cease using the technology and is actually looking to collect damages caused by the infringement. Damages? Bull****. This is about killing the competition."
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Honeywell Vs Nest: When the Establishment Sues Silicon Valley

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  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HexaByte (817350) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:44PM (#38957409)
    Patent hold get to license the technology or not, based upon their own preferences. You can't FORCE a company to share it's patents.
    • Re:Really? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:47PM (#38957457) Homepage Journal

      I total agree's you.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by crawling_chaos (23007) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:48PM (#38957481) Homepage
      Yes you can, you simply change the law. Patents are not inherent to the organization of the universe, and a compulsory license requirement would be in no way unconstitutional.
      • Re:Really? (Score:4, Funny)

        by tgd (2822) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:51PM (#38957529)

        Yes you can, you simply change the law. Patents are not inherent to the organization of the universe, and a compulsory license requirement would be in no way unconstitutional.

        $1 billion dollars, per usage.

        Compulsory license requirement met.

        • Re:Really? (Score:4, Informative)

          by mepperpint (790350) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @03:04PM (#38957705)

          Typically compulsory licensing requirements include that the price must be fair. No reasonably human being (and likely no court) would feel that $1 billion dollars per thermostat is a fair licensing price when Honeywell is selling their thermostats for $50-$100 each. Presumably they'd have to sell their thermostats at $1b+ to claim that the patents were worth $1b per unit and seems likely that Honeywell would find themselves out of business pretty quickly if they demanded $1b+ per thermostat.

        • Compulsory requirements often come with a reasonableness clause.
        • by Skapare (16644)

          The language of a compulsory licensing law would require demonstrating that every licensee is charged a fair and equitable price, which cannot be any higher than the price of their own products minus the material and production costs. And that difference would be distributed among the many patents used in a single product in the proportion the company specifies (for all).

          I take it you would vote against such a law and allow big corporations to continue to stifle innovation and drag this country down?

      • Parts of copyright law already have this - mechanical licensing, for example. It's relatively straight forward and accessible. Oddly, syncronization rights are not compulsory, nor are master rights. They're not always easy, but it's a hell of a lot better than if they didn't exist.

      • And in what ragged and damaged interpretation of the Constitution would that be? Which power granted to the government does it fall under? You do realize the Constitution is a listing of the rights of the government and not the rights granted by it, don't you?

        • The power to grant copyrights and trademarks, and therefore to establish the conditions pertaining to them, is right there in the damn document.
        • You do realize the Constitution is a listing of the rights of the government and not the rights granted by it, don't you?

          Umm, no.

          The Constitution is a listing of the POWERS of the federal government. Rights are something only people have.

      • Didn't this happen once? I heard of a libertarian legend that the US gov. once forcibly pooled all the patents required to create airplanes.

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hey! (33014) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @05:51PM (#38960093) Homepage Journal

        And we probably should have some provision for mandatory licensing, if we're going to grant patents like this one:

        A thermostat having a thermostat housing and a rotatable selector disposed on the thermostat housing. The rotatable selector adapted to have a range of rotatable positions, where a desired parameter value is identified by the position of the rotatable selector along the range of rotatable positions. The rotatable selector rotates about a rotation axis. A non-rotating member or element, which may at least partially overlap the rotatable selector, may be fixed relative to the thermostat housing via one or more support member(s). The one or more support member(s) may be laterally displaced relative to the rotation axis of the rotatable selector. The non-rotatable member or element may include, for example, a display, a button, an indicator light, a noise making device, a logo, a temperature indicator, and/or any other suitable device or component, as desired.

        [US Patent 7159789].

        So what is the invention here? A rotating selector that "rotates about a rotation axis?" What else would it rotate about? A rotating selector that can be used to set a desired parameter by rotatable position? How else would a rotating selector be used? A thermostat where the the temperature setting input is "disposed on" the housing?

        What they're describing here isn't a mechanism, it's a *design*.

        • So what is the invention here?

          Maybe if you want to know what the invention is you should look at the part of the patent where they tell you what the invention is, rather then reading the abstract?

          • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by hey! (33014) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @07:04PM (#38960861) Homepage Journal

            I have read the patent. It's not long. The only claims that have any possible relevance to the Nest device are pretty much described verbatim in the abstract. Other than that, the claims are commonplace stuff like using gears or belts to drive a potentiometer shaft which encodes the dial's position. That's older than the hills. The patent is padded out somewhat with all the different things you could stick on the stationary part (indicator lights, buzzers, bi-metal thermometers, company logos), but none of that is essential. There's a moving part and a stationary part, and the stationary part may or may not have stuff on it.

            What is described in the patent is a user interface in which a digital thermostat mimics the operation of an analog thermostat. In the device as described, the position of a rotating dial on the outside of the chassis set some value. Judging from the pictures the Nest UI doesn't work that way. It is more like a jog-dial in which the direction of motion controls moves the value up and down; the absolute rotation is irrelevant.

            The only way to stretch this patent to cover the Nest device would be to grant Honeywell exclusive rights to any UI in which a rotation part encloses a stationary one, regardless of the mechanism or mode of operation. In other words, Honeywell is claiming a patent on a visual design.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:49PM (#38957497)

      Isn't it the dream of every company to kill the competition? And isn't the point of patents controlling your innovations, including limiting your competition from using them? It seems to me they're taking a fairly normal and ethic (as far as businesses are ethical these days) route to the whole thing. It's bad business for everyone if companies believe they can get away with infringing patents and then just pay for licensing if they get caught.

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:52PM (#38957557)

        Isn't it the dream of every company to kill the competition?

        I think you mean "blow the competition away."

      • On the other hand, what should Nest's strategy have been if they knew about these patents before they started? Give up and admit that no one is allowed to make round thermostats or leech power from other devices? Blow all of your seed capital on legal fees? Approach Honeywell, knowing full well that they are more likely to kill your idea than to license their crappy tech? And if you do any of the above, you will severely weaken your case if you decide to challenge these patents later on.

        The problem i
    • by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @03:09PM (#38957819) Journal

      TFS doesn't say (probably to drive more views to the linked page) but this is all about thermostats.

      Some of the patents include "thermostat is round and can be rotated" [google.com], "thermostat asks the user questions" [google.com], and stuff like that. Considering how skeptical many people are about Apple's "design patents" on "rounded rectangles with touch screens", I would be skeptical of some of these as well.

      Now some of the other patents, like leeching power off of the main system, may hold up under more scrutiny (though this technique has been in wide use throughout the industry; I recall two-wire sensors that derive their power parasitically from the data line, and if the patent covers similar technology then it should be revoked).

      Also, FYI, you can compel some patents to be licensed. FRAND patents, for instance; Samsung got into hot water when they tried to use FRAND patents as a weapon against Apple.

      IMO, you shouldn't be able to use patents to shut down competitors. Especially competitors that outsmarted you by building a better product than you could.

      • by jbengt (874751)

        Some of the patents include "thermostat is round and can be rotated"

        How could have they possibly applied for this patent in 2004, when they've produced round thermostats with rotating setpoint adjustments since just about forever?

    • by perlchild (582235)

      No you can't, and that's about one third of all that's wrong with the patent system of all the countries I know of.

      Patents exist to REWARD them for sharing their patents, through licensing, and then land their inventions in the public domain.

      That they don't even TRY to license them shows their contempt for the very reason they're allowed to have a patent in the first place.

      It might be an idea to have an arbitrage type of system, where the patents expire unless the patent-holder signs up new licensees, until

    • Compulsory licensing agreements exist in the United States in a number of industries. Just a few include "West Publishing citations to court opinions", "U.S. v. 3D Systems", "US v. Miller Industries", "Dell Corporation VL Bus patents".

      These compulsory licenses were put in place to prevent extremely anti-competitive behavior. Just like Motorola's latest suit against Apple, demanding 2.25% of all iPad sales. Motorola can't just demand a billion dollars per patent infringement case and clean out Apple by s
    • What if a company patents something that is "vital to the security of the country," like a "Terrorist-Find-O-Matic?" Can't the government say, "tough shit, we need that?"

      I was about to start working on my "Crotch-Groping-O-Matic" device, but if the TSA folks are going to just steal it from me, I won't bother.

    • Patent hold get to license the technology or not, based upon their own preferences. You can't FORCE a company to share it's patents.

      As it happens, not only can you, a great many of the patent law systems of the world do to some degree or another(it seems to be even more common with copyrights; but also happens with patents). All Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property signatories(1883-Present) possesses the right to create compulsory licenses under certain circumstances.

      In the specifically US context, it's worth noting that patents and copyrights are listed as something Congress may create(but is not in any way ob

    • by rmstar (114746)

      Patent hold get to license the technology or not, based upon their own preferences. You can't FORCE a company to share it's patents.

      Why does this incoherent drivel get modded up to +5 insightful? Has the modding system been infiltrated again?

  • if you treat the nest as a computer -- which it is -- one that happens to be hooked up to your HVAC, most of the patents involved are not patent worthy.
    • Re:the thing is (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:59PM (#38957643)

      They are indeed extremely lame-looking patents, even by the usual standards of patent lameness. Several of them are an attempt to patent early-20th-century button/knob technology, and several others are an attempt to patent standard 1930s-50s control theory. Oh, except with the phrase "used in a thermostat" or "in an HVAC system" added, which makes it totally novel.

      One of the patents is for this earthshattering invention: a system that can change from an initial temperature to a second temperature, while indicating on a display an ETA for reaching the target temperature.

      Another one is for this: a display with a circular housing over it, where rotating the housing, by means of a potentiometer to which it is attached, changes an HVAC system parameter.

      And yet another one is this: a display that asks a user questions in natural language, displays a menu of possible responses (such as "yes" and "no") among which the user may select, and then adjusts an HVAC system's configuration as a result of the user's response.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        have they sued car manufacturers, or do they have different patents that have "in a car" plastered on them.

      • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @03:10PM (#38957835) Homepage

        Personally, I liked the one about 'diverting' power from the home's electrical system to power the thermostat. You mean like every electrical appliance in existence?

        • Re:the thing is (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Miamicanes (730264) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @03:50PM (#38958459)

          Actually, that one's not quite as ridiculous as it sounds, assuming the technology isn't much different from home thermostats. AFAIK, home thermostats in an old home with only a furnace might have as few as two wires: one that's approximately 24Vac, and one that gets connected to it whenever the furnace should turn on. A newer home with an air conditioner might have two or more additional contacts for the a/c compressor & blower, and possibly 24vac of its own. I believe that most use battery power for the digital logic, but use the 24vac to energize the relay coils. I believe most home digital thermostats were historically battery-powered because the logic doesn't draw much power, and because it prevented the programming from getting lost whenever the power were shut off at the breaker.

          Fast forward to 2012. For literally a few cents, you can buy an 8-bit microcontroller with real eeprom and flash, and a linear power supply to convert 24vac into 5vdc is far from being rocket science. Instead of relying upon continuous power to keep the settings alive, you can just write them to flash, and read them back when power gets restored. I believe this is more or less the nature of their patent.

          Assuming I'm mostly right, this is a pretty lame patent. Unfortunately, it probably does meet the technical standards for being granted. I can only assume that Honeywell grabbed it because the market for home thermostats has traditionally been so small, few other companies have even bothered with it (I mean, let's be honest... how often do most people REALLY replace their thermostats?), so nobody else even thought about filing a patent for it first.

          • by sjames (1099)

            It's an extremely lame patent. Stealing a bit of power from a control circuit isn't new at all. Many panel lights are powered that way for example.

        • by powerlord (28156) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @04:12PM (#38958757) Journal

          Personally, I liked the one about 'diverting' power from the home's electrical system to power the thermostat. You mean like every electrical appliance in existence?

          As long as they aren't up to diverting power from "Life Support" things can't be too critical yet.

    • Don't you remember that everything one can do with a computer is magically novel and patent worthy each time you change the context even slightly?

      It was patent-worthy when "on a mainframe" was appended(though much of that has expired by now, so it isn't a matter of significant practical concern)
      It was again patent-worthy when done on a PC.
      You'd better fucking believe that doing it "on the internet" made it patent-worthy all over again and then some.
      On a 'smartphone'. Oh you know it, and twice as shin
    • Such is the case all technology. Cell phone carriers can still charge per message for a truncated text message, when the same device and infrastructure and contract allows you to send hundreds and thousands of times the data in email systems and streaming at a fraction of the cost.
  • Get a Nest (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Myopic (18616) * on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:55PM (#38957595)

    I have a Nest and it is awesome. Don't buy it because it will save you money (it may reduce your montly cost a little, but it'll take a while to make up for the cost of the device), rather buy it because it is a fun toy. It's very well implemented, looks nice, the software is great, and you can do cool stuff like connect to it from your pod.

    Fuck Honeywell. If their patents have been violated, then where are their Nest-like products? I smell another patent troll.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Quantus347 (1220456)
      In the industrial sector, which is their primary business and one where they have been leading innovation in for decades. They have these types of products, but they are geared toward serious use and not being a "fun toy" and so are priced above the average consumer level.

      The fact is Honeywell has been making computer controlled systems like this for decades. Just because some little knockoff came along years later and packaged up a cheap version for consumers does not mean they have the right to infr
      • by tbannist (230135)

        I don't know. It seems like a number of the Patents fall into the category of "Blindly obvious" and "overly broad". I mean really? They have a patent on using sentences on a screen on a thermostat?

        It looks like Nest's real crime is making a inexpensive competitor to Honeywell's expensive proprietary technology. To someone who knows very little about the situation, it looks like Honeywell has been bilking it's higher end customers and using patents to generate monopoly rents. How come Honeywell doesn't

      • by Myopic (18616) *

        Wow dude. You got an unfair troll mod for that.

      • I'd say it's ALSO a fact that the only products Honeywell has been offering consumers are basic, dumb thermostats or overpriced digital models with very basic functionality and a high price-tag that you're presumably supposed to pay to get that respected Honeywell name badge on the front.

        If there are issues over some specifics, such as the particular control mechanism used, violating Honeywell patents? Then fine ... let them demand licensing fees for those items and move on. The fact Honeywell hasn't done

      • by jbengt (874751)

        In the industrial sector, which is their primary business and one where they have been leading innovation in for decades.

        Honeywell is one of the best-known brand names in the controls industry, mostly due to their past dominance. In the last couple of decades they have not been what you could call leading or innovating. (IMHO, anyway)

      • by tragedy (27079)

        I have a round thermostat on my wall. It's been there since the 1970's or earlier as far as I can tell. Clearly longer than any patents last. It uses a coiled bi-metallic strip and a mercury switch to operate. I am not an Electrical Engineer (I have some experience with it as a hobby and from where it overlapped with the Computer Science courses I took at University and even a small amount of professional experience doing such work) and don't really qualify as someone "skilled in the art". Nevertheless, if

      • They may be leading innovation, but a round design and using natural language in an interface shouldn't be counted among those innovation. For everything made by man, someone is going to be the first to apply a particular method or come up with a particular feature. That doesn't mean that being first always implies brilliant ideas and/or painstaking, long research.
    • I'm assuming that the Nest and some Institutional/industrial networked HVAC controller made by Honeywell(probably one where 'web based' still means "serves a java applet that requires a JVM five years old to run, after authentication in plaintext with a password of no more than six characters, for an extra license fee we'll turn on the SNMPv1 interface..." both implement some concepts that would be familiar to anybody who has perused a control theory textbook and/or some things that programmers building net
  • by mepperpint (790350) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:57PM (#38957617)

    I had no idea these Nest Thermostats existed, but they look awesome. Now that I know about them I can go out and buy one and enjoy an increased quality of life. Thanks, Honeywell, for bringing them to my attention!

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      I know right? my cheapass honeywell is absolute junk that if you bump into it too hard it will fall off of its base and dangle by its wires. and forget setting it it couldn't tell the temperature any better than it could tell the difference tween its ass and a hole in the ground. It had gotten down to like 40 in here last night even though that innovative digital POS thought it was 62, its set to kick on at 60 during the night.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @03:02PM (#38957675) Homepage

    Large buildings already have control systems that do this, and Honeywell manufactures many of them.

    The "Nest" device may well be mostly hype. (What is "far-field motion detection", anyway?) There's only so much you can do with input from one location and nothing but on/off control over heating and cooling.

    Compare the EcoBee [ecobee.com], which does the same job, and probably better. EcoBee can handle remote sensors for outdoor air temperature. It measures humidity, which "Next" doesn't claim to do. It can be set up to control fans and dampers. (One of the biggest wins in HVAC management is figuring out how much air to take from outside and how much to recirculate.)

    Nest is a status symbol, not a HVAC management system. It looks cool. It creates the illusion that it's doing something "green". It probably helps a little.

    • Large buildings already have control systems that do this, and Honeywell manufactures many of them.

      The "Nest" device may well be mostly hype. (What is "far-field motion detection", anyway?) There's only so much you can do with input from one location and nothing but on/off control over heating and cooling.

      Compare the EcoBee [ecobee.com], which does the same job, and probably better. EcoBee can handle remote sensors for outdoor air temperature. It measures humidity, which "Next" doesn't claim to do. It can be set up to control fans and dampers. (One of the biggest wins in HVAC management is figuring out how much air to take from outside and how much to recirculate.)

      Nest is a status symbol, not a HVAC management system. It looks cool. It creates the illusion that it's doing something "green". It probably helps a little.

      Look at the EcoBee, and without reading any instructions or manual, attempt to change the temperature lower or higher. Do those "menu" type buttons do that job? Or is it a touch screen? Those are not immediately obvious, and most of the population would say the same thing.

      Nest is an attempt at making the interface in such a way that the usage is obvious to most of the population without looking it up in a manual. Right now, that costs extra, but maybe not for long.

    • by Tharsman (1364603)

      Nest is a status symbol,

      Because being able to say you are able to afford a $250 thermostast gives you greater status bragging rights than getting a $700 phone or a $100k car!

    • Nest is a status symbol, not a HVAC management system. It looks cool. It creates the illusion that it's doing something "green". It probably helps a little.

      It was produced by an ex-Apple employee's startup, after all...

    • The "Nest" device may well be mostly hype. (What is "far-field motion detection", anyway?) There's only so much you can do with input from one location and nothing but on/off control over heating and cooling.

      Indeed. Particularly since in many houses (like, say, mine) thermostats are in hallway that's largely blocked off from the rest of the house in any case.

  • Nest keeps being referred to as novel and innovative in the article and honeywell as the old giant, yet how can that really be when they clearly infringed on patents that honeywell previously had. Honeywell was clearly more novel and innovative before Nest even existed.
    • by Kenja (541830)
      Its simple, like Apple Nest uses brushed aluminium and glass while the Honeywell Prestige (which does the same and more) costs less but is made out of white plastic. Glass, aluminum & other peoples technology is innovative!
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @03:31PM (#38958127) Homepage

    No shit. What the hell do you think patents are for? They may or may not be socially desireable, but don't lose sight of the fact that they are government-granted monopolies. Preventing competition is what they are all about (Licensees are not competitors. They are customers.)

    • They are government granted monopolies, granted to enrich the holder, for the purpose of promoting the useful arts and sciences. If patents are not serving the public, then there is no point to grant one. Patents are a NICETY we extend, not a natural Creator-given right.
  • by robertchin (66419) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @03:34PM (#38958177) Homepage

    Let's see:
    Patent number: 5482209
    Filing date: Jun 1, 1994
    Issue date: Jan 9, 1996

    So patents filed before June 2005 the patent term is the longer of 20 years from the filing date or 17 years from the issue date. Check.
    Expiration is Jan 9, 2014, based on 20 years from the filing date.

    Let the Lawsuit drag on for two years until the patent expires, so as long as they don't get an injunction they will just pay some damages and presumably be on their way.

  • When I upgraded my HVAC to 2 stage heat/cool, they could not setup the 2 stage heat to be activated from the thermostat controller, so it had to be set to switch to hi mode after 15 minutes of continuous demand. Why? Because there were only 5 wires. Why couldn't they design a thermostat/HVAC that only needed 2 wires? Instead, it still uses an ancient protocol that needs more wires for more features.

    • by ian mills (721167)

      It's been done. Look at the Carrier Inifinty/Bryant Evolution systems. 4 wire communicating system. There are other communicating systems from Trane and various other manufactures as well, but they all use different protocols, which is a problem. Perhaps someday they'll standardize but for now you'll need a matched system from one company.

  • by jtara (133429) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @04:05PM (#38958687)

    I kinda saw this coming, but didn't grasp the implications, e.g. patent issue.

    When I saw Nest, I chuckled at their claims that this was such a revolution. Why, the thermostat will learn your usage patterns by itself!

    Scroll back like 30 years or so ago when I lived in Dertroit. A friend of a friend, I think in Ann Arbor, invented this thermostat call MagicStat. It learned your usage patterns all by itself. That's why was was unimpressed by Nest's claims. Yawn. Long, 30-year yawn.

    Honeywell bought the MagicStat patents. I presume they've maintained those and taken out new ones throughout the years.

    • by jtara (133429) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @04:27PM (#38958997)

      Here's the trademark listing for Magic-Stat which was issued to QuadSix Corporation of Ann Arbor, Michigan filed in February, 1982, and subsequently assigned to Honeywell Corporation. One

      http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4008:kk95v8.3.2 [uspto.gov]

      (I realize the trademark has nothing to do with patents. Just using the trademark to help fix the date and origination of the "learning thermostat" idea.)

      So, it looks like Nest took 30 year old technology and created a buzz by giving it a bit of Apple shine.

      I actually had one of the original Magic-Stats, before it was sold under the Honeywell label. I was reasonably happy with it. The unique feature is that it would learn the inertia of your system, so that it would achieve the desired temperature at the time that you wanted. That, and the unique simplified user interface. e.g. you just set it to the desired temperature when it doesn't seem right, and it learns your pattern from that.

      It just amazes me how much buzz these guys got over something that was invented 30 years prior.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:41PM (#38961699) Homepage

    The thing has a privacy policy and an end-user license agreement. Remember, this thing is a slave to a server at the manufacturer, and they can download new firmware. So they have total remote control over your furnace. They disclaim all liability. There is no warranty. (Honeywell normally offers a 5-year warranty). They can discontinue the service at any time.

    You can't even resell the thing. The software license doesn't transfer. So if you sell your house, the thermostat has to be replaced.

There is no distinction between any AI program and some existent game.

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