Honeywell Makes A Beeline To Stir Up Nest
By Tom Wyrick. February 8, 2012, 3:50 PM CDT
Honeywell Corporation stings Nest Labs and Best Buy retailers this week with a surprise patent lawsuit over the Nest learning thermostat. Honeywell claims their patents were infringed related to “controlling a thermostat with information stored in a remote location,” “a thermostat’s inner design,” “simplified methods for operating and programming a thermostat including the use of natural language,” and “an electric circuit used to divert power from the user’s home electrical system to provide power to a thermostat.”
Honeywell isn’t offering Nest the opportunity to pay licensing fees so production can continue either. They’re demanding Nest cease and desist in using any of their patented technology in the product and seeking compensation for damages caused by the infringement.
While it’s true that Honeywell manufactures their own intelligent thermostat for home use — the Prestige series — the patents in question appear awfully vague. Surely there’s nothing very original about designing a circuit to power a thermostat off the homeowner’s electrical system? Even if a court found this enforceable, Nest could work around it simply by requiring batteries in their thermostat instead. Another cited patent describes 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. Still another describes 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.
The main reason the Nest thermostat has a chance for success is in the details — details Honeywell completely ignores with their broad-stroke infringement claims. Nest distills a complex process into a very basic, intuitive user-interface, keeps it at an affordable price-point, and with features like iPhone integration, actually makes setting a thermostat fun instead of a chore. A look back in history reveals Honeywell’s failure to successfully market such a product, even the basic functionality was practically handed to them. Back in 1982, a company named Quad Six from Ann Arbor, MI patented the Magic Stat, a programmable thermostat that calculated when the heat or air conditioner should turn on to reach an optimum temperature and sensed heat loss, allowing smart adjustments for extremely cold mornings or cooling when cooking was taking place in the kitchen. Honeywell eventually bought the rights to the Magic Stat, but abandoned it. Honeywell’s President of its Environmental and Combustion Controls division, Beth Wozniak, was recently quoted as saying, “We found that consumers prefer to control the thermostat, rather than being controlled by the thermostat.”
Given all of this plus the fact the Nest thermostat is such a new product, it’s hard to imagine its sales figures caused Honeywell much monetary damage. This suit is simply an attempt by Honeywell to destroy competition before it can generate much buzz.
About Tom Wyrick
Tom Wyrick is network manager for a steel fabrication company by day, and owner of Wyrick Consulting, an on-site PC and Mac service business. He's recently been told he "has more computer power than some 3rd. world countries" at home.