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Green Innovator Meets The Patent System

Last October, Via Meadia highlighted a new product from the man who brought us the iPod: the Nest learning thermostat. It was a great example of innovative design and engineering lighting the way forward for a greener future. And it showed how iconoclastic American startups can continue to revolutionize previously stagnant markets by bringing technology to bear on simple everyday problems.

But as is often the case with disruptive technology, entrenched interests are not taking kindly to the challenge. A week ago, Honeywell International filed a suit claiming that several of its patents were infringed upon.

We at Via Meadia are not patent lawyers and can’t pass judgment on how valid these claims are. Intellectual property rights are an important part of a thriving market economy, and if the Nest folks are using technology that Honeywell has previously developed without paying licensing fees, they should be compelled to pay up. But as we look at our dusty old thermostat hanging on the wall, we can’t help but feel a little disappointed that this battle may be fought in the courts rather than in the marketplace.

We want cool new gadgets that cut our energy bills and enhance our lives, and we want them now.  Let’s hope the legal process works quickly and one way or another some innovative products get to the stores. The purpose of patent law is to speed innovation up, not slow it down, and we hope the lawyers and judges involved keep this fundamental principle in mind as they analyze the facts of this case.

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  • BillH

    “Let’s hope the legal process works quickly and one way or another….” Now, that would be something to write home about.

  • Robert Burnham

    You can have your Nest thermostat — I’ll stick with my Honeywell T87:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Honeywell_round_thermostat.jpg/220px-Honeywell_round_thermostat.jpg

    Never needs to be programmed — and then reprogrammed after every power glitch.

    The T87 costs less than $30 on Amazon — about 1/10th the price of a Nest.

    And the T87 is an icon of midcentry design — there’s even one in the Smithsonian.

    Best of all, market forces are keeping it alive.

  • Kris

    Robert@2: So if I get this right, not only is the Honeywell better than the Nest, but it is incomparably cheaper. Which is why Honeywell is suing Nest. :-)

  • Andrew Allison

    I must confess that when I read the inital blog about the Nest, I thought that it was, say the Tesla of thermostats,i.e., a rich kids toy. As Robert points out a simple programmable thermostat costing $20-$30 does all that’s necessary.
    The courts (sigh) will have to decite whether the Nest is infringing, but it does seem like a dreadful waste of time and money for Honeywell to sue a company which roughly zero chance of being a competitive threat — unless of course Honeywell is planning something similar and wants to slow Nest down. If so, it’s an even more stupid strategy. Honeywell should let Nest test the market.

  • Corlyss

    I hope with the expanded posting by interns we’ll have more coverage of the IP wars. They are among the most influential trends in information transmission.

  • Earl of Sandwich

    If you read Nest’s S1 filing, half of it is spent bashing Honeywell. My impression is the lawsuit is more out of petty vanity than strategic or profit concerns. In anycase, I doubt Nest does anything common sense can’t.

  • JGreer

    The current status of patent law in regards to technology is a mess. I think it is critical that these issues be resolved in this very important area before we have any chance of moving ‘Beyond Blue’

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