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Nest Labs Calls Honeywell Lawsuit 'Worse Than Patent Troll'

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the devil-they-know dept.

Patents 137

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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137 comments

Worse than a patent Troll? (5, Insightful)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 2 years ago | (#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. ;)

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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:Worse than a patent Troll? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664221)

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.

LAW IS MADE BY THE POWERFUL (4, Insightful)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664491)

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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.)

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666979)

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.

Honeywell, I dub thee: ProgressTroll (1)

TiggertheMad (556308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39667109)

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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (3, Informative)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665121)

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

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (2)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665915)

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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39665413)

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.

Nest is in a defensive crouch, and like it or not, the law will determine whether or not Honeywell has a case. If they're able to get an injunction against Nest, then you know it's likely Honeywell will prevail. But even if they don't win the case, lawyers are trained to initiate a lawsuit in such a manner as to make negotiations worth while, and that strategy means throwing in the kitchen sink if it adds weight to the argument.

As for "controlling the market," Honeywell has the upper hand at this point regardless of the disposition of courts. And even if Nest has a superior technology, they have a long way to go in successfully developing a product line, let alone a business model. So if Nest Labs squeeze some free advertising and marketing out their David v. Goliath position, then why not villify Honeywell?

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (4, Insightful)

canajin56 (660655) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (5, Informative)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (3, Interesting)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664585)

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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (3, Insightful)

DemonGenius (2247652) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:Worse than a patent Troll? (3, Insightful)

CaptainLugnuts (2594663) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665353)

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 little bit of power for recharging batteries/caps in a thermostat.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (2)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666289)

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 of leeching power from a control or signaling circuit.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665555)

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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39666955)

http://www.articleonepartners.com/study/index/1345-thermostat

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39667487)

Just a reminder people:

The crux of a patent are the claims. Neither the abstract nor most of the specification (except for interpretive purposes) matter for patents you are trying to assert--only the claims matter.

When you are trying to assert the prior art anticipates or makes something unpatentable over something else as being obvious, the prior art is good for all that it teaches: specification, drawings, abstract, claims, and anything that is inherently taught.

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.

I'm not one of ordinary skill in this art. If you can find another reference that makes this substitution, combination, or modification obvious in concert with the primary reference, the patent is invalid as obvious over 103. Understanding what one of ordinary skill in the art would find as reasonable to combine is probably more important than patent law itself in this context.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664227)

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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (1)

SuSi123 (2616567) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664239)

You're right!!

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (1)

Tharsman (1364603) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664581)

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.

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (1)

DemonGenius (2247652) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665321)

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 :)

Re:Worse than a patent Troll? (5, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664641)

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.

Honeywell = apple = evil (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39663991)

Sounds exactly like the apple vs android saga. Apple realizes they are losing to the superior android and can't compete so they sue making up nonsensical lawsuits. Now Honeywell sees a superior thermostat and sues because they did not think of it first. Death to Apple and Honeywell.

Re:Honeywell = apple = evil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39665721)

From what I've heard they did actually think up the concept of a smart thermostat before Nest, but decided that wasn't sufficiently profitable or marketable. That right there should have invalidated their patents. Patents were intended to give individuals/companies a temporary monopoly to benefit society with new ideas & inventions, not as flack to shoot down their competition.

byoo, hyoo (1, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664023)

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 (4, Interesting)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:byoo, hyoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39667625)

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?

The patent is invalid as anticipated if it's the same invention under 35 U.S.C. 102. The earlier patent serves as prior art in all cases if it was published more than one year before the second application.

What you more typically see though is that a patent disclosure covers multiple inventions, and a patent examiner would almost certainly require that these multiple inventions not be presented in the same application (when a separation is required, it's called a restriction requirement). In this case, either voluntarily (continuation or continuation in part [CIP]) or involuntarily (division), a different invention will be presented in a new application with the original disclosure. Because the invention was constructively reduced to practice when the first application was filed (the invention occurred at least as early as the first application date), it gets accorded the filing date of the first application even though it's a different set of claims.

If there is any overlap in the inventions, the second application will be rejected under double patenting. If the exact same invention is disclosed, the double patenting is statutory (35 U.S.C. 101). If the variant is an obvious variant of the applicant's earlier invention, it would be obvious type (non-statutory or judicial doctrine) double patenting, which would be remedied by a terminal disclaimer (the term of the second patent will not extend beyond that of the first patent; the excess term is disclaimed and dedicated to the public).

So for example, let's say I apply for a patent with a disclosure that discloses an invention that can be practiced with feature A, but could optionally be practiced as feature A-B. In the first application, applicant claims invention A, and the Patent Office allows claim with feature A. Before the first application issues as a patent, applicant files a continuation application with the exact same disclosure as application A (domestic benefit under 35 U.S.C. 120) claiming feature A-B. The continuation allows the priority date to be accorded as if it were filed on the same day as application A. Thus application A cannot serve as prior art against A-B. But because A-B was filed second, it will probably have a later patent term, and A-B is an obvious variant of A. The examiner will reject A-B as an obvious type double patent of A, and the applicant will (presuming it really is obvious or they don't care) file a terminal disclaimer, where the term in excess of A is disclaimed.

Re:byoo, hyoo (3)

Andrio (2580551) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664207)

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 (3, Informative)

Tharsman (1364603) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (3, Insightful)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:byoo, hyoo (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666381)

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

Re:byoo, hyoo (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39668097)

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

Re:byoo, hyoo (1)

chrismcb (983081) | more than 2 years ago | (#39668105)

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.

I guess.. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664027)

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

Re:I guess.. (0, Offtopic)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664101)

YEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

Re:I guess.. (2)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665181)

(sunglasses)

Didn't learn anything (2)

synapse7 (1075571) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664091)

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

Re:Didn't learn anything (1)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664453)

I don't know if this is insightful or funny. Let's just hope it's not considered a good idea!

Re:Didn't learn anything (2)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666343)

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 high ground and fully intends to keep it that way.

Re:Didn't learn anything (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664511)

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.

Honeywell is known for this (2)

governorx (524152) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664099)

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.

Re:Honeywell is known for this (2)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664187)

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?

Re:Honeywell is known for this (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Honeywell is known for this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39666975)

Honeywell is known for this type of practice.

As hinted in an earlier post, Honeywell might not have been as pissed if Nest didn't copy the general appearance of the well known round thermostat. I'll bet it's as much about the styling (external design) as any technology.

Re:Honeywell is known for this (2)

Reverand Dave (1959652) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664447)

It sounds to me like they have a monopoly and need to be broken up and have their patents redistributed.

Re:Honeywell is known for this (2)

gnick (1211984) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664769)

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?

Re:Honeywell is known for this (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666543)

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.

Re:Honeywell is known for this (1)

MountainLogic (92466) | more than 2 years ago | (#39668069)

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 passed with support/pressure from many sectors.

Not a patent troll (4, Informative)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:Not a patent troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39665409)

Any lawyers in here to verify this?

Re:Not a patent troll (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39665543)

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

How did they hide prior patents? (4, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:How did they hide prior patents? (2, Informative)

Zerth (26112) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664263)

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.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664663)

In which case, Nest could have found them themselves just as easily. Honeywell have been making house temperature and environmental controls for a very long time. Nest would have known this, but didn't bother to see what Honeywell have patented.

Seeing as the start-up name used to work at Apple, he knows damn well how the system works, very well indeed. This is the company that tries to patent round corners on a screen they don't even make themselves, and the goes out of their way to prevent other companies from selling devices.

So suck it up Apple zealots. Nest will lose simply because they cannot afford to do what Apple do every day. Bwahahahahha!

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664721)

"Patent examiners do not do any research towards finding prior art" - citation required.

My experience is the exact opposite, the USPTO did some kind of similar language scan of exiting patents. I had to defend an application because of prior art that the USPTO came up with on their own.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664725)

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

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (3, Interesting)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#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).

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664753)

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."

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666709)

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 without clear directions on the IDS.... the patent examiner is doing exactly what he's supposed to do in this situation. Fail.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (4, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

Ion Berkley (35404) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664319)

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....)

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (5, Informative)

nameer (706715) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

Roogna (9643) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664819)

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 hiding the fact that they already had existing expired patents on that same thing, or if not intentionally hiding at least not mentioning it. Which they are required to do.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665095)

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; and providing a message during the amount of time indicating when the desired second set point is anticipated to be achieved in the inside space.

is preceded by

1. A method for preheating an oven having a control system to operate the oven, input means for setting cooking parameters, and means for displaying a time remaining until a preheat cycle is complete, the method comprising the steps of:

selecting a preheat temperature using the input means for setting cooking parameters;

providing a preheat time by using the control system of the oven;

determining if the oven cavity is pre-conditioned, wherein the oven cavity is pre-conditioned when a temperature in the oven is greater than a predetermined temperature and the predetermined temperature is greater than a room temperature and less than the preheat temperature;

executing a preheat cycle when the oven cavity is not pre-conditioned;

displaying the preheat time in a decrementing fashion using the display means of the oven;

ending the preheat cycle when the decrementing preheat time equals zero; and accessing a look-up table to provide a preheat time.

Clearly his patent attorneys didn't get the meaning of the word comprising across in their discussion, or the guy just wants to make a grandstand show here.

Magic-Stat (4, Interesting)

jtara (133429) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665665)

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.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666421)

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.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666495)

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.

Re:How did they hide prior patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39667687)

TFA says:

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.

If this is true, this is VERY bad. It's called inequitable conduct or fraud on the patent office. Lawyers don't like this because it can equate to malpractice.

When an applicant files an application with the PTO, they sign an oath or declaration saying generally three things:

  • They are the original, sole, and first inventor
  • The applicant has reviewed and understood the application
  • That they have a duty to disclose ANY information material to patentability under 37 CFR 1.56 to the Patent Office

If you know you have a patent or reference that would cause your application to be rejected or change the shape of prosecution, you MUST TELL THE PTO under 37 CFR 1.56 by way of 37 CFR 1.97 & 98. If you fail to tell the Office, and a court later thinks you should have and it was material to patentability, your entire patent can be held unenforceable due to inequitable conduct even if the reference would not currently cause the patent to be invalid. It does not matter whether the Office could have or should have found it; if you knew and it was material, you had a duty to disclose it.

Backfire (5, Interesting)

JamesA (164074) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Backfire (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664531)

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

Re:Backfire (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39664669)

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:Backfire (3, Insightful)

JamesA (164074) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665013)

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

Re:Backfire (1)

gnick (1211984) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665033)

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.

Re:Backfire (1)

aquadood (769082) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665091)

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.

Re:Backfire (1)

AaronW (33736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666183)

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] .

Re:Backfire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39666907)

I hadn't heard of the Nest either until a previous Slashdot report back in February on the Nest/Honeywell patent controversy. I bought one as soon as it became available. I've had it running for about three weeks now, and I really like it. It's a really well-thought-out device. Being a data geek, however, I want to capture more from the device than what it currently presents. Maybe a future release will give access to more.

Streisand effect, indeed.

Re:Backfire (1)

dohnut (189348) | more than 2 years ago | (#39667105)

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 other day which added a few new (mostly useful) features. I like that, it's like someone else said in a blog post the other day, "I never thought I'd be getting excited about a firmware update for my thermostat!"

I can't really justify the purchase however, other than the fact that I like gadgets and I don't mind being a guinea pig.

Not cool if you are in Europe (5, Informative)

martijnd (148684) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:Not cool if you are in Europe (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39665545)

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.

Re:Not cool if you are in Europe (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666589)

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.

Re:Not cool if you are in Europe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39667425)

I think this guy's end run was a bit foolish, but he does bring up a good point (although indirectly) that I believe we can all agree upon:

Region locking products sucks donkey balls! (Particularly when there's no real valid nor obvious need to do so.)

I have no argument with that partcular point. It's already bad enough that it's being done with DVD players and things like game consoles, but thermostats too?

And the away-mode thing not working at night doesn't make sense either. Why cripple your product when it would be arbitrary to alter the firmware to allow for fringe cases?

Tangent about Nest (3, Interesting)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Tangent about Nest (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665825)

Reviews of this product on Amazon are not that great. I was thinking of getting the Nest, but at $300 it still seems risky.

Re:Tangent about Nest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39667643)

The Nests on Amazon are being sold by resellers, not from Nest directly. The price for the thermostat from Nest is $250. Not that $250 is cheap either...

Re:Tangent about Nest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39668027)

I haven't purchased a Nest yet since I'm currently looking for a new home, but Marco Arment had an interesting experience with his Nest thermostats. http://www.marco.org/2012/03/03/honeywell-thermostat-pulse

Nest paid to have an electrician run new wiring to help power the thermostats and generally provided exceptional customer service. Just another anecdote on the opposite side.

Bullcrap (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664969)

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.

Always "Patent Trolls" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39664987)

It seems like the new thing to do if you get sued for patent infringement is to scream "patent troll." Patent trolls are generally non-practicing entities, which Honeywell is definitely not.

Additionally, complaining about Honeywell's goal of monopolizing the field is also silly because that's what patents are supposed to do. Patents allow you to make something without others being allowed to compete for ~20 years.

Finally, you can't "hide prior art." The whole point of prior art is that it's accessible. If it was hidden, then it doesn't count as prior art as far as the law is concerned.

It seems recently that /. has taken a "patents are evil" attitude. This is a very silly attitude for a site that deals primarily with technology related news. Patents are the reason that companies can make money off technological inventions. Patents aren't evil.

Honeywell has a repeat history of this. (2)

Zoson (300530) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665221)

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 entire fan line was significantly inferior.

Re:Honeywell has a repeat history of this. (0)

mrbester (200927) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665709)

"irrespective". Not only is "irregardless" not a word in the English language it also contains a double negative making the sentence even more nonsensical than it already was.

Re:Honeywell has a repeat history of this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39667291)

Damm i wish you pedantic spelling and grammar nazis would fucking die already. (DIAF isnt a word either. but i wish it upon you)

You are an extreme minority in the world. And you are SO annoying. Your pedantic little 'not a word' contributes nothing to any conversation.
You ARE an asshole for saying it as well. Hopefully someday you'll say this shit in person to someone like me who's had enough and get kicked in the balls. Altho you deserve much worse.

Just stop already.

Everyone else will get along just fine using our non-words since everyone knows what he said.

I'm serious. DIAF.

From the likes of Honeywell... (0)

doston (2372830) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665341)

Patent trolling is just mild flirtation with evil from a company like Honeywell...ask Honeywell what it's been up to in Laos. Pathetic scumbags. Yeah, I do try to avoid buying their *shit*.

Like Murder and War (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | more than 2 years ago | (#39665767)

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

Honeywell extremely anticompetetive (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

IP law needs rewrite? (1)

hahn (101816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39666901)

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 if the judge finds your claims are not valid and that you're suing just to squash a competitor, you then owe the defendant the same amount of money that you are suing them for. Thus, if you go into court without solid evidence, you risk paying dearly for such a strategy. Right now, the problem seems to be there is no risk in suing someone other than some lawyer and court fees. Even if you lose, you kinda win by potentially tying a competitors hands behind their backs, esp if they're a small startup. For certain time-sensitive products (esp in technology), this can be a death sentence.

Honeywell Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39667469)

I am a former (thankfully) Honeywell employee, and I can say first hand that their patent process is a complete and utter joke. Their patent lawyers frequently rewrite and change the language in the patent application to make them more broad and general, and they often end up not resembling at all what the Engineer intended.

They pay employees to submit patent ideas in the hopes they'll come up with something they can troll down the road.

Honeywell must truly be getting desperate. They're a terrible company to work for in the first place, and when I left it was during a wave of brain drain that would make any technology company blush - but not Honeywell. They were happy to see American employees leave.

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