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Nest Labs Calls Honeywell Lawsuit 'Worse Than Patent Troll' 137

Posted by timothy
from the devil-they-know dept.
UnknowingFool writes "Over a year ago, Nest Labs launched the Learning Thermostat. The brainchild of Tony Fadell, former head of Apple's iPod and iPhone division, the Learning Thermostat promised a self-programming and wifi-enabled thermostat that would save energy costs. After some glowing reviews, Nest found itself in a patent infringement lawsuit against Honeywell. Nest responded with multiple claims calling Honeywell 'worse than a patent troll.' Among Nest's claims: Honeywell hid prior art (some on some previous patents that they owned) and inapplicable patents (patent on mechanical potentiometer when Nest's product does not include one). Nest's stance is that Honeywell filed the lawsuits not to extract money but to set back progress so that they can control the industry."
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Nest Labs Calls Honeywell Lawsuit 'Worse Than Patent Troll'

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  • by BagOBones (574735) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:02PM (#39663971)

    I thought allowing your products to succeed and preventing others from entering the market is part of the idea of a patent? Unlike a troll that has no product, at least Honeywell has one... Even if their claims do not apply. ;)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:07PM (#39664047)

      I think it depends your values, but I could see where this could be considered worse: Honeywell is trying to prevent progress (so that they might catch up and own the market, like they do for less advanced thermostats), whereas a patent troll is all for progress as long as they get a cut.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In context, I have always seen patent trolls portrayed as non-practicing entities- do nothing companies that sit on and exploit patents for monetary gain. While we can argue that Honeywell is cynically exploiting its patents for monetary gain, it's certainly not a non-practicing entity. They're a huge manufacturer, a leader in their field. They just happen to be using any means to help protect their market share.

        • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:28PM (#39664491) Homepage Journal

          To maintain their position and dominance.

          This includes everything from managing the progress of technologies, to profits from the trade in drugs and armaments.

          Law is your enemy. It was made without your representation, and adopted by managing your consent under a false pretense. Always treat it with suspicion.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:39PM (#39664705)

          Right, but you're missing the point: A patent troll wouldn't try to stop this product, they'd just want a cut. Honeywell wants to eliminate this product even though they don't have a product as advanced. Therefore if you value progress, you'd be better of if these patents were owned by patent trolls. That Honeywell makes less advanced competing products may help people justify the validity of these patents more, but in the end the consumer will be worse off with the patents in the hands of Honeywell than in the hands of do-nothing trolls, because do-nothings trolls will let other people do-something and Honeywell will not.
           
          (I never thought I'd argue on the side of patent trolls, but this is mainly just an intellectual exercise anyway. I doubt any of these patents are justifiable as "promoting science and the useful arts", in that the technology would be created even if the patents were never expected or granted.)

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Sounds like we need a new term for players like Honeywell, since they're far worse than trolls; they just want to impede all progress if it isn't made by them, and use bogus patents to do so.

            • Sounds like we need a new term for players like Honeywell, since they're far worse than trolls; they just want to impede all progress if it isn't made by them, and use bogus patents to do so.

              ProgressTrolls? Sounds accurate and properly demeaning...

              Oh, and: Fuck you Honeywell. Man up and get in the game with a real product to compete with instead of a stack of USPO filings and legal briefs or get out of the way so some grownups can, you know, advance society.

        • by Dishevel (1105119) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:02PM (#39665121)

          They did not say Honeywell was a patent troll. They said they were worse than one.

        • by sjames (1099)

          They just happen to be using any means to help protect their market share.

          Any means other than exercising what they claim to be their patent in order to produce an advanced product.

          Since they aren't exercising the patents they claim, they are within that scope a troll. They want to kill the advanced products so they can continue to dominate the industry with their current inferior products.

          Effectively, they want to halt the march of progress.

        • by alanshot (541117)

          In context, I have always seen patent trolls portrayed as non-practicing entities- do nothing companies that sit on and exploit patents for monetary gain. While we can argue that Honeywell is cynically exploiting its patents for monetary gain, it's certainly not a non-practicing entity. They're a huge manufacturer, a leader in their field. They just happen to be using any means to help protect their market share.

          Normally I would agree. However they have been enforcing a petty "its round. your thermostat cant be round. ours was round first, so therefore we win." tack for the last 20+ years. Even though the shape was used to facilitate a circular spring mechanism that similar round solid state devices didnt exhibit.

          So simply by being round, AND NOT CONTAINING THE UBER IMPORTANT VIAL FULL OF MERCURY ATTACHED TO THE SPRING you are still in violation. 0.o

          While they arent trolls in the traditional sense, they are still p

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:07PM (#39664061)

      On the other hand, at least a patent troll (presumably) holds a real patent that the other company is infringing upon. Whereas Nest is saying Honeywell is just throwing litigation at them that Honeywell knows they can't win, in the hopes of either e generous settlement or keeping Nest out of the market long enough for Honeywell to reenforce their monopoly.

    • by canajin56 (660655) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:12PM (#39664151)
      Nope, it's a lot worse to have a patent on a device you make, and sue competitors who do not violate the patent in hopes of putting them out of business with legal fees. Patent trolls may have possibly invalid claims and may be extorting, but Honeywell knows it is filing groundless lawsuits in hopes of crushing competition without having to innovate or compete. Patent trolls just want some money, not to destroy you and bury your corpse.
      • by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:25PM (#39664433)

        Nope, it's a lot worse to have a patent on a device you make, and sue competitors who do not violate the patent in hopes of putting them out of business with legal fees. Patent trolls may have possibly invalid claims and may be extorting, but Honeywell knows it is filing groundless lawsuits in hopes of crushing competition without having to innovate or compete. Patent trolls just want some money, not to destroy you and bury your corpse.

        But is that really what is happening in this case?

        For example, Nest claims that this patent:

        http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=5736795.PN.&OS=PN/5736795&RS=PN/5736795 [uspto.gov]

        A solid state power switching circuit for alternating current loads, in which operating power for the circuit is diverted from the switched current during power stealing intervals self-synchronized with the alternating current waveform. During periods in which current to the load is commanded, a load current switch is maintained in a low impedance state except for the duration of a short power stealing interval each half-cycle of the supplied alternating current. Self-synchronization is achieved with a current detector which senses whether or not the magnitude of the current diverted during each power stealing interval exceeds a current threshold, and pulse generator logic which shifts the power stealing intervals in time relative to the alternating current waveform in response to the previously sensed current magnitude.

        Is a an expired patent that provides prior art for this one:

        http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=7476988.PN.&OS=PN/7476988&RS=PN/7476988 [uspto.gov]

        A power stealing system having a switch and a circuit that takes power from equipment to operate control electronics. The system may be such that power stealing occurs while the equipment is not powered to avoid disruption or false signals in the electronics or equipment. The circuit may convey taken power to a storage device. The electronics may be powered by the storage device. The storage device may have a capacitor, a rechargeable battery, a non-chargeable battery, a solar cell, fuel cell, line power, and/or the like.

        I'm no patent attorney, but they look completely different to me. One synchronizes with an AC signal to steal power only during part of the waveform, while the other steals power when the powered device isn't currently using it.

        • by poetmatt (793785) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:33PM (#39664585) Journal

          I'm no patent attorney

          There's your answer. The rest is for the judge to decide. If you ask me about my personal opinion, it's very damning and pretty much in line with what Honeywell is known for. However, I'm not the one making the decision here.

          • by DemonGenius (2247652) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:11PM (#39665269)

            I'm no patent attorney

            There's your answer. The rest is for the judge to decide. If you ask me about my personal opinion, it's very damning and pretty much in line with what Honeywell is known for. However, I'm not the one making the decision here.

            Not being a patent attorney doesn't bar someone from an opinion nor does it make him/her oblivious to what is moral and what isn't. Judges have been known to drop the ball many times in history. In a way, the outcome of this is OUR decision in terms of who we vote into office if we vote in the very people who support the kind of tactics that Honeywell is playing.

            I certainly would never consider the word of a judge as absolute especially if he/she's not on the side of the common person. You should read this comment [slashdot.org], pretty much reiterates my point.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          They both are the same thing.

          The first one listed is a specific way of powering a device fed by AC in such a way as not to trip the relay that old style furnaces use for 'call heat.'

          The second one is a generic way that covers all methods of powering a device without unwanted side-effects, like tripping the relay that old style furnaces use for 'call heat.'

          The second patent listed cover the specific AC case. Neither should have been granted a patent as the solution is obvious to an EE who needs to grab a

          • by sjames (1099)

            And it's a fairly common technique. The first one I personally dealt with was an Estes rocket launcher. It stole power from the ignition circuit to light a light bulb without allowing so much current that it triggered the launch. That was even more clever since that meant the bulb indicated not only the armed condition but that there was continuity with the igniter and the battery. Also, it was simple enough for a child to understand its theory of operation.

            That was in the '70s and was hardly the first case

            • by russotto (537200)

              And it's a fairly common technique. The first one I personally dealt with was an Estes rocket launcher. It stole power from the ignition circuit to light a light bulb without allowing so much current that it triggered the launch. That was even more clever since that meant the bulb indicated not only the armed condition but that there was continuity with the igniter and the battery. Also, it was simple enough for a child to understand its theory of operation.

              Totally different technique. That was DC, not A

              • by sjames (1099)

                Actually, it happened to be DC but would not be sensitive to the current type. In a current switched control circuit, it's inevitable that the power stealing component will be in parallel to the control. That was a feature in the patents as well even if not spelled out as plainly. It's why the device needs to store power to hold it over when the control circuit is active.

                As for the USPTO, they have been ignoring the law for quite some time and haven't even denied it. They are more than happy to spend a few

        • Ah, the old comparitor-and-switch device. I've seen that before, in applications that need a tiny bit of power from the mains without the size and expense of a full power supply. The power factor would be hell, if they ever drew enough current to worry about.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I thought allowing your products to succeed and preventing others from entering the market is part of the idea of a patent? Unlike a troll that has no product, at least Honeywell has one... Even if their claims do not apply. ;)

      Honeywell filed the lawsuits not to extract money but to set back progress so that they can control the industry.

      Obviously we should forbid compamies naming themselves after foodstuffs as Apple have also proved with their patent trolling.

    • by SuSi123 (2616567)
      You're right!!
    • by Tharsman (1364603)

      That is why it's worse than a patent troll: because it's used to do what patents are supposed to do: co#(block fair competition.

      • That is why it's worse than a patent troll: because it's used to do what patents are supposed to do: cockblock fair competition.

        FTFY, there's no censorship on /. and this has more punch :)

    • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:36PM (#39664641) Journal
      The original idea of patents was to foster innovation by encouraging inventors to make their inventions public, receiving a temporary monopoly in return. Historically, patents were considered to be an artificial construct to benefit society, not a natural right of inventors. The idea is that society benefits from the disclosure of non-obvious ideas, and from inventions that are perhaps expensive to implement.

      Now take a look at the patents claimed by Honeywell. It's all obvious crap and design gimmicks, simple intellectual land-grab. Society stands to benefit not one iota by the disclosure of these ideas, and would not have been worse off if Honeywell would have kept them secret. Someone else could have (and has) come up with these "ideas" in the course of designing their own product, without the benefit of knowledge of the details of these patents.

      The granting [of] patents 'inflames cupidity', excites fraud, stimulates men to run after schemes that may enable them to levy a tax on the public, begets disputes and quarrels betwixt inventors, provokes endless lawsuits...The principle of the law from which such consequences flow cannot be just."

      This is from an issue of The Economist... published in 1851.

      • the first patent (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Not quite the original idea.. that whole "keep exclusive so we have an incentive" came along later.

        Brunelleschi (of Duomo Dome fame) got what was generally considered the first patent in 1421. And it was because it was for a way to move very large blocks of stone on the river, something that could not possibly be hidden as a trade secret. Therefore, he got the local duke (or whatever) to issue a document that said, Ol' Filippo came up with this cool idea, you're all going to see it, but you can't use it.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      They didn't say Honeywell was a patent troll, they said they were worse. And I'd tend to agree that anticompetetive behavior of a giant against a pigmy IS being worse than a patent troll. Look at the trouble it got Microsoft into back in the '90s.

  • byoo, hyoo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622)

    If they want to complain, they should be complaining about IP law rather than companies that use it as (apparently) intended.

    And no, Honeywell isn't worse than a patent troll. I might have a teardrop or two of sympathy for Nest, if not for the overblown rhetoric.

    • Re:byoo, hyoo (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jeng (926980) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:11PM (#39664131)

      So how do you feel about companies re-applying for a patent that they already received after the original patent has expired as a way of restricting competition?

    • by Andrio (2580551)
      A patent troll will use IP laws to make money. Honeywell is using IP law to kill a startup that's brought new life into an industry that hasn't budged since its inception, and thus prevent progress in that industry.
    • Re:byoo, hyoo (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tharsman (1364603) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:38PM (#39664689)

      One of the claims in the case is that Honeywell patented things that were so obvious that they were simultaneously re-invented within Honeywell itself, by entirely separate and independent teams. These re-inventions that nearly prove the "invention" is too obvious to be patented where hidden and lied to during the patent process to make sure they would be granted.

      At least that's Nest's claim. I do am curious how they got their hands on such internal Honeywell information, but if true this is indeed worse than patent trolling. For lack of a better legal term, I’d say this is fraud against the patent office.

      • Re:byoo, hyoo (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Jeng (926980) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:16PM (#39665359)

        I would imagine they looked at all of Honeywell's patents and the patent applications.

        It is publicly available information, no need for internal documents.

        There is no claim that Honeywell didn't realize they were re-patenting their own inventions, per the link it is thought it was done specifically to fuck over competition.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Why not both? The law is not the final arbiter of ethics and violations of ethics are themselves worthy of complaint and public censure.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      Well said company's lobbyists helped write it, so yes I think I will bitch about them.

    • by chrismcb (983081)

      If they want to complain, they should be complaining about IP law rather than companies that use it as (apparently) intended.

      Nest is claiming that Honywell is NOT using it as it was intended. Nest is saying that Honeywell is suing, even when they know that Nest isn't infringing any of the patents. Sort of like you have a patent on making waffles, and you sue the competition across the street for making pancakes.

    • by CondeZer0 (158969)

      Exactly, patents are government granted monopolies [cat-v.org] by definition and by design.

      Honeywell is using them precisely the way they are meant to and the way they have always been used through history, from the steam engines to Apple.

      Yes, patents are supposed to encourage innovation, but by creating monopolies they archive precisely the opposite.

      He should be complaining about how stupid and counterproductive the so call intellectual property system is, not about some other company that is not Apple doing what Appl

  • I guess.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:06PM (#39664027)

    Honeywell is turning up the heat on the competition...

  • by synapse7 (1075571) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:09PM (#39664091)
    Tony obviously didn't learn anything from Jobs. Tony should patent the shape of the honeywell thermostat and get injunctions against honeywell.
    • I don't know if this is insightful or funny. Let's just hope it's not considered a good idea!
      • by St.Creed (853824)

        It's actually a textbook case. In Austria one company pushed another, very old and established company, right out of the market using this tactic. It's viable, and companies use it. So yes, if Honeywell hasn't applied for branding rights on that, by all means bring out your own thermostat in that shape and do so. You can't do it before you actually establish market presence though. Which would bring the Honeywell patents down upon you. It's a sort of "who shoots first" situation where Honeywell commands the

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Tony could... Had Honeywell not already beat him to it.

      http://www.google.com/patents/US2394920
      http://www.google.fr/patents/about?id=bFlxAAAAEBAJ

      This wouldn't be the first time that Honewell has tried to sue someone for making a round thermostat http://home.teleport.com/~stevena/scrabble/legal/eco_vs_honeywell.html.

    • by russotto (537200)

      Tony obviously didn't learn anything from Jobs. Tony should patent the shape of the honeywell thermostat and get injunctions against honeywell.

      Err, at the risk of getting wooshed, that's exactly what they did... they're suing Nest for, among other things, having a round thermostat.

      Never mind that Honeywell put out their first version of the round thermostat in 1955, which means that patent ought to be good and expired by now.

  • Honeywell is known for this type of practice. I remember the last sales rep that came to our office. His statement was along the lines of 'you should just buy from us because we own all the IP. Even if you buy from a distributor or competitor you are still buying from us.'

    They want their section of the market and will do anything to keep it.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      Honeywell is known for this type of practice. I remember the last sales rep that came to our office. His statement was along the lines of 'you should just buy from us because we own all the IP. Even if you buy from a distributor or competitor you are still buying from us.'

      They want their section of the market and will do anything to keep it.

      If they hold legitimate patents to the technology, what else would they be expected to do?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:34PM (#39664603)

        Well, the problem is that they don't really hold legitimate patents as much as they held legitimate patents. Those patents expired some time ago, and as Honeywell hasn't actually innovated in the thermostat space in the last 40 years or so, they didn't really have any new patents to file. So, it seems they just went out and filed essentially the same patents again, using sufficiently different language that nobody really noticed, giving them new "valid" patents. Unfortunately, this practice is of dubious legality to say the least.

    • It sounds to me like they have a monopoly and need to be broken up and have their patents redistributed.
      • by gnick (1211984)

        Monopoly? How can that be when the novel invention of a thermostat is so recent? How can you be so quick to yank it away from them?

      • There is nothing illegal about being a monopoly, and in fact they are not as a quick search in Amazon for thermostat would immediately determine.

    • What is driving Honeywell and what are their goals? Is this to shut down Nest? Is this to keep other from entering the field? Is this to scare away VCs? Is this to make their dealers/Honewell marketing dept/stockholder feel like they are "doing something" because Nest has gotten so much press? Do they really expect to win? Is winning shutting Nest or just making them make minor changes to work around the patent claims? At a big corporation a lot goes into decision like this - Much like how laws get
  • Not a patent troll (Score:5, Informative)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:09PM (#39664107)

    Nest's stance is that Honeywell filed the lawsuits not to extract money but to set back progress so that they can control the industry."

    That would make this a Frivolous lawsuit [wikipedia.org], not a patent troll, and as such the defendant would be subject to compensation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And thus the claim, "*worse* than a patent troll," not the claim, "a patent troll."

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:12PM (#39664149)

    TFA says:

    and the patents in question should all be invalidated by prior art — even, in some cases, by previous Honeywell patents Nest claims the company hid from the Patent Office.

    How did Honeywell hide previous patents that are, by the very nature of patents, publicly available? If they are expired patents that are relevant in proving prior art, Nest themselves should have found the patents in their own prior-art search. It's clear from the many patents that have been issued despite clear prior art that the patent office themselves does not do a sufficient job of searching for prior art.

    While I do think that Honeywell is trying to shut out the competition, if they have a patent covering the technology that Nest is using, that's well within their rights. And since Honeywell does sell programmable thermostats, I think what they are doing is far less insidious than patent trolls that gather patent portfolios and using them to extract money from companies even though the troll has no intention of ever producing a product that uses the patent.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Zerth (26112)

      They hid them simply by not mentioning them to the patent examiner.

      Patent examiners do not do any research towards finding prior art. None. They expect the applicant to have done their research and include any relevant prior patents, since, as you said, patents are publicly available.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Wouldn't that make said patent applications fraudulent, since Honeywell obviously knew about the prior art.

        • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:11PM (#39665259)

          Honeywell can easily take the position that the patents in question are not prior art (different subject matter) and thus don't need to be disclosed.

          If you look at the claims it is not at all convincing that they are prior art. In some cases some the of patents Nest is claiming were hidden from the USPTO are actually cited in the patents that Honeywell is claiming are infringed on (OOPS).

      • by Anonymous Coward

        RE: "Patent examiners do not do any research towards finding prior art."

        HUH? That's EXACTLY what patent examiners do. When someone files a patent, they fill out an IDS form. This basically tells the patent examiner, "Hey, I already know that you might consider these prior art. I don't think they qualify, but you might want to look at them."

        • by idontgno (624372)

          HUH? That's EXACTLY what patent examiners do. When someone files a patent, they fill out an IDS form. This basically tells the patent examiner, "Hey, I already know that you might consider these prior art. I don't think they qualify, but you might want to look at them."

          And when the patent applicant LIES on the IDS, because they know they have perfectly applicable prior art in the form of their own prior expired patent, but they know the patent examiner won't be able to find his own ass with both hands wit

          • And when the patent applicant LIES on the IDS, because they know they have perfectly applicable prior art in the form of their own prior expired patent, but they know the patent examiner won't be able to find his own ass with both hands without clear directions on the IDS.... the patent examiner is doing exactly what he's supposed to do in this situation. Fail.

            I take it you've never seen an IDS. It's just a list of references. There's no room for "LIES" or "clear directions". Here's [uspto.gov] an example.

            Anyway, what Nest is saying is that Honeywell failed to disclose materially relevant prior art that they knew of, and therefore committed inequitable conduct. The obvious response from Honeywell will be that those prior art references fail to teach or suggest all of the claimed features and therefore are not materially relevant, and there was better or more relevant prior

      • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:07PM (#39665205)

        That's absolutely wrong. Patent examiners generally have a set of patents and some literature in the field they review that they feel covers the key points in the art that they refer to in examining patents. They will also add to that the patents in the field held by the filing company because those patents are important in establishing the expertise of the inventor in field.

        Now what is true is that the examiner won't have a complete view of the literature, but these days there is so much crap published that it is impossible for any individual to possess that knowledge. That's one of the reasons trials are so expensive. Generally that's when the most complete prior art reviews are done.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        Wouldn't that make Honeywell guilty of defrauding the patent office or committing perjury?

    • For example Honeywell may have filed new patents that failed to cite their own existing technology/patents.

      I think when all is said and done, it's plainly not fair to describe Honeywell as a patent troll...there are a bit of a dinosaur, but they are the incumbent in this space and they did develop a lot of the basic thermostat technology...there time may well have come to become extinct...but they aren't parasite lawyers (though you can be sure BOTH sides pay them....)

    • by nameer (706715) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:19PM (#39664323)

      Duty of disclosure [wikipedia.org] means that if you are aware of relevant prior art when applying for a patent in the US, you are obligated to inform the USPTO about it. Nest is saying that Honeywell should have at least known about its own prior patents, and that not disclosing them violated the duty of disclosure. This is grounds for the patent being found invalid.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        It should be grounds for not only losing the patent, but having the person who signed it convicted of perjury for lying to the feds.

        Dishonesty is such an integral part of so many shenanigans that it ought to be punished more severely and frequently than it usually is.

      • Duty of disclosure [wikipedia.org] means that if you are aware of relevant prior art when applying for a patent in the US, you are obligated to inform the USPTO about it. Nest is saying that Honeywell should have at least known about its own prior patents, and that not disclosing them violated the duty of disclosure. This is grounds for the patent being found invalid.

        Honeywell's response won't be that they didn't know about their own patents, but that they weren't relevant - that they didn't teach or suggest everything in the claims, and that there was better prior art on the record. In which case, there was no duty to disclose.

        Patents are almost never thrown out over inequitable conduct. It has to be really egregious, like lying in an affidavit. Usually, it's better to simply give the earlier references to the jury and let them decide if the patent is invalid for obvi

    • by Roogna (9643)

      If you read the entire article you would see that in some cases it's because the original patent is expired, such as:

      "#6,975,958, which covers controlling a thermostat through the internet. Nest says this was already covered by now-expired patent #4,657,179, which Honeywell first filed for in 1984 — a patent it did not disclose to the Patent Office."

      Now of course, IANAL. But it seems from the article as if perhaps Honeywell was re-filing when patents they had expired and gaining new patents on it, by

    • Most of these claims by Nest are poppycock. For example in US 7,634,504 is cited 5,065,813 which NEST claims was not shown to the PTO by Honeywell.

      Another example is 7,634,504,

      1. A method comprising the steps of: operating a programmable controller to cause an HVAC system to change an environmental condition of an inside space from a first initial set point to a second desired set point, the HVAC system achieving the change in the environmental condition to the second desired set point in an amount of time;

      • Magic-Stat (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jtara (133429) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:25PM (#39665525)

        This one is also covered by a previous patent that Honeywell owns. It's the patent for the Magic-Stat. It was developed by an inventor in Ann Arbor, Michigan back in the 70's or 80's. Honeywell bought that patent years ago. I knew someone who knew the inventor, and had one myself. That was it's big claim to fame - the thermostat "learns" your space's thermal inertia so as to achieve the desired temperature at the desired time. It also had the same schedule learning concept i.e. just jump up and adjust the thermostat when you feel uncomfortable, and the thermostat will eventually figure it out.

        When I saw the Nest thermostat I yawned, since I had these features 20 years ago, albiet without Internet connectivity.

        • by Xenna (37238)

          Right, I've been smelling a rat all along but I couldn't put my finer on it. That NEST thing doesn't seem so special at all. They seem to be milking this patent thing for all the publicity it's worth.

      • I see the simularity. The algorithm is the same in each of them - take a space, determine current and desired temperature, move it from the current to desired while displaying to the user an estimate of the time taken to complete the change. The difference is in what that space is: One patent covers using the estimate-time in an HVAC system, one in an oven. So they cover two possible applications of the same thing.
        • No, the algorithms are quite different. In one case the time is obtained from a predetermined lookup table, and the other the time is determined by the total run time of the program that was entered.

      • Most of these claims by Nest are poppycock. For example in US 7,634,504 is cited 5,065,813 which NEST claims was not shown to the PTO by Honeywell.

        Nice catch there. From the article:

        #7,634,504, which is Honeywell's wild patent for using natural language prompts to program a thermostat. Nest says this is a retread of patent #5,065,813, which was filed 15 years earlier and not shown to the PTO by Honeywell.

        And here [google.com] is the '813 patent cited on the '504 patent (10th one down on page 2).

    • by sjames (1099)

      Back in high school, my friends and I had a sort of game where we would describe a common object in highly precise but convoluted terms and see if anyone could guess what it is. Sort of an advanced and rigorized version of the Coneheads. It seems patent attorneys do that too.

    • by chrismcb (983081)
      There are something like 8 million active patents. I don't know how many inactive ones. The Patent office does not search for prior art, you are supposed to provide it. An existing patent can be prior art.
      I believe Nest DID find the patents, that is why they know about them.
  • Backfire (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JamesA (164074) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:15PM (#39664205)

    I've been thinking about replacing my home Honeywell thermostats (2) with Nests so that I can link, control, and monitor them more effectively. The news of this lawsuit has pretty much sold the deal.

    I don't think Honeywell thought about the Streisand effect.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      Didn't even know about the Nest thermostat before now, but I was looking for exactly what they are providing.

    • If the only place that this lawsuit is being discussed is in the niche locations like Slashdot, as Honeywell, I would not worry too much about the Streisand effect. I know that the vast majority of my customers will look at the rack in the hardware store and pick something familiar. Not much of a backfire here.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JamesA (164074)

        Niche locations like Slashdot consist of the type of early adopters Nest needs to build momentum in the marketplace.

    • by gnick (1211984)

      Disclaimer: I am an Honeywell employee, although in an entirely different division.

      It sounds like Nest is doing a great job and may have outpaced Honeywell in the thermostat world. But you have to admit that historically Honeywell has reigned the thermostat world. In the local hardware store, the Honeywell thermostats are the only ones kept locked up. It's not any kind of company loyalty or astroturfing, it's just one of few areas where I respect the brand.

    • by aquadood (769082)
      Same exact thing for me. My honeywell thermostat was being so annoying that I've had it shut off for 3 weeks. This story gave me just enough nudge to look at what the nest actually does from end to end, causing me to like what I saw. Purchase confirmed! I can't wait to rip the Honeywell off the wall.
    • by AaronW (33736)

      I recently got a Nest thermostat and must say I'm quite pleased with it and have noticed a noticeable reduction in my heating bill with its auto-away feature. The fact that I can control it via my Android phone is even better. I had an old Honeywell thermostat that could also estimate how long it took things to reach temp but had to replace it years ago since it didn't support my multi-stage furnace. The Nest is extremely well made. Be sure to also check out the Nest teardown [sparkfun.com].

    • by dohnut (189348)

      Yup. I didn't even know Nest existed until it appeared on Slashdot a few months back in regards to this lawsuit.

      I now own one.

      Now, anything the Nest can do other thermostats can do arguably better and certainly cheaper but they cannot do it with as much style. So we're definitely in Apple territory here. But when I buy any Honeywell thermostat it feels like a static, WYSIWYG device (well, because usually it is). The Nest feels more like a dynamic, evolving machine. They just released a new update the o

  • by martijnd (148684) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:27PM (#39664477)

    Since I am looking for a new thermostat this sounded like a cool thing. But this review by a fellow European warned me off trying this :

    http://www.bjornsblog.nl/post/20583667249/using-the-nest-smart-thermostat-in-europe-not [bjornsblog.nl]

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      lol @ this guy

      He bought a product intended use and distribution solely in the US and then bitched that it didn't work in Europe. My favourite part:

      Not even when I emailed support with my .nl mail address with a question about displaying degrees Celsius, as is common outside the US. Since support found out I live outside the US they stopped answering my mail.

      He A) assumed they would research the domain in his email address and B) became offended when they notified them that they could not support him, but he insisted, so they ignored him.

      Nice.

      • by sjames (1099)

        He even did an end run around their final "no really, US only" check by getting a friend in the U.S. to order it for him.

      • by NorQue (1000887)
        TBH, I would expect a Thermostat to be working worldwide, too. It's fairly obvious that they forcefully locked it to work in the US only, that's kind of a dick move from the manufacturer, IMHO. They actually used resources for locking it down, instead of just let it work anywhere in the world.
  • Tangent about Nest (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:39PM (#39664707)

    Some friends installed a Nest recently and had issues. They spent an evening repeating the installation steps trying to understand what they did wrong and another evening on the phone with support, being told to repeat those steps again. Eventually they were told that their furnace didn't output enough power for the Nest thermostat and that they'd have to return the unit (to Amazon, I think) for a refund and pick some other thermostat brand.

    They called up my dad the EE, who has no real thermostat or HVAC expertise but did install a new thermostat himself 20 years back. They described the error shown by the thermostat and their conversation with Nest support and he pointed out that "enough power" isn't a really relevant concept. He went over and tested the voltages on the well documented furnace connections and then on the relatively poorly documented Nest thermostat and found that the fault was with Nest. He called Nest support again and was told for half an hour that he was mistaken, then asked for a manager and convinced him that the problem was with their product, not the furnace. Once a warranty replacement arrived the problem was immediately solved.

    It's just an anecdote, but it was impressive how much Nest support resisted and that the first unit arrived with a hardware problem. It made me wary of the company. Furthermore, the "learning" capabilities have been an utter failure for said friends. I think the current Nest thermostat is only meant to work for much more predictable people.

    • by cvtan (752695)
      Reviews of this product on Amazon are not that great. I was thinking of getting the Nest, but at $300 it still seems risky.
    • by a_hanso (1891616)
      The last time we trusted anything from the Nest it took Mila Jovovich to clean up the... or was the the Hive? I forget.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Honeywell has been doin their thing since 1906. They have thousands if not more products. They are pretty much THE thermostat company.
    Thousands if not more patents. Billions in cash and profits.

    Nest labs was started in 2010. And this is the first and only thing they have ever made.

    Yeah.... Patent troll... One company does look like one that's for sure. Or no wait. Patent infringer... Yeah that fits perfectly.

  • Honeywell is notorious for running competitors out of business, or buying up competitors and then simply discontinuing all their products. Specifically to control the market.

    A good example of this is the window fan market, which Honeywell has almost a complete monopoly.

    Several years ago there was a company called Lakewood Engineering that made, by far, the most effective and silent 'economic' household window fan. Honeywell bought them, and discontinued the model irregardless of the fact that their entir

  • If you do it big enough, you only have to pay if you lose.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @06:04PM (#39666165)

    I'm in the aerospace industry where Honeywell is a major player, mainly in avionics. The last several years they have stopped to issue new repair/overhaul manuals for their units, prohibiting 3rd party shops performing maintenance on units. Honeywell obviously charges about an extra zero tacked to the end vs. anybody else to perform the same work. Just last week we recieved a copy of a 'repair manual' we requested that spent 50 pages talking about fault checking (we know the unit doesnt work....) and then a few pages with nice illustrations of how to package and ship the unit to Honeywell for repair.

    A few years ago we were selling overhauled 'items' to the government for drones. These items were originally made by honeywell, when they found out they pulled the repair manuals and gave us a call, explaining their size vs our size in the industry and what they could do to us if they so choose.

    Horrible company.

  • Like many other people and innovative corporations, I'm sick and tired of seeing patent litigation used as a business strategy (assuming that Nest legitimately did not steal any creation from Honeywell). I'm not a lawyer, so perhaps I'm missing some nuance of IP law, but I've always wondered why these laws aren't written in a way that deters frivolous lawsuits. So for example, if you want to sue someone for $10 million because you feel that that person or corporation stole a creation of yours, fine. But
  • Okay, it's round. But everyone knows why they made it round, because all of us grew up with round Honeywell thermostats. If I made an MP3 player that looked exactly like the original iPod, or a car that look exactly like the original Mustang, I would make plans to eventually expect a letter from Apple or Ford. You can't tell me that Nest Labs is not smart enough to know they would eventually get a letter from Honeywell.
    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      oddly enough I dont remember our round thermostat with a backlight, lcd or colors, it was that pukey fake bronze, with the majority of it on cheap plastic made up to look like crystal, that controlled a dial. it also has switches sticking out the top and bottom.

      making something EXACTLY is not the same as similar, in your argument every rectangular music player should be sued out of existence by apple, and anyone else making a muscle car should be nuked by ford, but sorry, it doesnt work that way, honeywell

  • Honeywell certainly didn't do any research or even planning to come up with the products I tried. Unnecessary features, unwanted features and worse, inaccessible features. The first one I tried had a Change Filter warning come on after 3 months, so I changed the filter. The thermostat had no way to reset that function, even taking the battery out didn't do it Maybe there is a way but I didn't feel like spending the time to find it. It continued to say Change Filter till I ripped it out of the wall and
  • I was considering replacing my ancient round thermostat with a programmable one. I swear their used to be programmable stats that had the classic round form factor, but all those for sale now are rectangular, which would look ridiculous in the middle of the round escutcheon the current one is mounted upon (which I have no interest in removing and dealing with what lies beneath it, paint-wise).

An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. -- James Michener, "Space"

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