Nest Gets Sued Again For Patent Infringement For Daring To Make A Better Product

from the you-need-a-patent-to-add-a-voice-to-a-smoke-detector? dept

A year and a half ago, we wrote about the patent infringement lawsuit filed by Honeywell against Nest. Honeywell, of course has a huge market share for thermostats, while Nest is the innovative upstart — the darling of the tech set for rethinking how to make a simple thermostat and include Apple-style design touches and features. It was a perfect example of a complacent legacy player caught off-guard by a disruptive upstart… which then chooses to sue instead of just compete in the marketplace. Recently, Nest launched its second product to much fanfare: doing a similar rethinking of the lowly smoke detector — adding a bunch of features that make it more useful, safer and less annoying than today’s common smoke detectors. Hurray for innovation.

And so, of course, Nest has now been sued for patent infringement again, this time by BRK, makers of “First Alert,” which holds a patent on certain features, like having a smoke detector that uses a voice instead of a loud beeping. Wait, you may be saying to yourself: you can patent using a voice in a smoke detector, instead of a beep? According to BRK, apparently you can get six such patents: 6,144,310, 6,600,424, 6,323,780, 6,784,798, 7,158,040 and 6,377,182. Okay, okay, I exaggerate. Only five of those six patents are about voice alarms. One is about how the damn thing is mounted.

Part of the lawsuit seems to suggest that the folks at BRK are just kinda pissed off at Nest’s marketing — in which they’ve said that “there has been no innovation in the market for years.” That was clearly an exaggeration for marketing effect. What BRK is really angry about is that Nest’s marketing is working. But that’s how competition works. Yes, perhaps BRK put voices into smoke detectors first — and that’s great. But being first is meaningless. What matters is if you can get people to use the devices, and Nest is doing a good job getting the word out. If BRK were smart, it would recognize that Nest is helping to educate the market, and that should increase the opportunity to get their own products more well known. Compete in the marketplace, don’t try to shut down the upstart because you’re jealous that they’re the hot new thing.

Furthermore: I’ve got two of the BRK First Alert smoke detectors/carbon monoxide detectors in my house already. They’re definitely a step up from the traditional kind of smoke detectors (of which I’ve got another half a dozen around the house as well). But, frankly, the Nest Protect goes way beyond what the First Alert does and puts it in a much more compelling package. It’s got lots of innovations that go way beyond just adding a voice, providing more detailed information, and is a product more likely to keep you safe.

In Nest’s response, it points out that merely adding voice to a smoke detector was an obvious concept and shouldn’t be patentable — also pointing out that there’s significant prior art. There’s also the (big) problem that BRK doesn’t own most of the patents in the lawsuit. Instead, they’re owned by Gary Morris, the inventor, who licensed (but did not assign) them to BRK. BRK argues that it has the exclusive license to those patents, which could potentially mean it has the right to sue, but Nest points out that Morris shows those patents available for license on his website, suggesting otherwise (though, I just looked and it appears those particular patents are no longer listed on his website…).

Either way, BRK may be jealous, but it should channel that effort into building a better product and convincing people to buy it. Don’t stomp on the competition just because the new guy is getting some attention: innovate and compete. The world will be a better place and more people will be protected from home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Isn’t that better than trying to shut down a product that might help keep people safe?

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Companies: brk, nest

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Comments on “Nest Gets Sued Again For Patent Infringement For Daring To Make A Better Product”

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Richard Ahlquistsays:


In addition to that when someone wins like say Apple just did against Samsung that 290million comes out of the consumers pockets. So all it’s created is a litigious money pit.

Create something new, patent.

Competitor creates it, sue, lawyers profit, joe schmuck pays.

It’s no longer about innovation if indeed it ever was. It’s truly about crushing competition. They claim its about protecting the R&D costs of a company. They spend hundreds of millions like Microsoft did in designing the new controller for the Xbox One so they must be allowed to patent it to recoup those costs. Here is the catch..

What if my company was designing a similar controller at the same time and didnt get the patent first? What if my company had spent 100million, well that just means I get to eat that loss. In virtually any design space there are multiple companies all at once designing similar products with minimal differences that shouldn’t be protected in this way. This is all about big business protectionism. It completely stifles innovation because we want to assure that the big pockets people get compensated.


Re: From the Verge comments

What if I have an idea that hasn’t been brought to the market for some time (1-2 years or maybe never will) because the ‘inventor’ does nothing with their patent and I’ve therefore no prior awareness of the idea (i.e. for my part I invented it)?

Should infringements not be recognised during that period of inactivity and protected from negative legal implications? Otherwise it simply puts up a wall for startups bringing consumer-beneficial products to the market, particularly if the registered patent is overly broad.

John Fendersonsays:

Being first

But being first is meaningless. What matters is if you can get people to use the devices

Right on the money.

Further, being first comes with some large disadvantages. These disadvantages can be overcome by properly using the advantages of being first, but it’s actually really hard to do that. There’s a reason for the truism “the pioneers get all the arrows”.

From a pure business point of view, you generally want to be second, not first.


Re: Being first

“There’s a reason for the truism “the pioneers get all the arrows”. From a pure business point of view, you generally want to be second, not first.”

A good example of that is comparing the Diamond Rio to the Apple iPod. The first was snuffed out by the litigious record industry, the second reaped a fortune after the smoke on the battlefield had cleared.


Anyone else play Bioshock?

I’m aware that it’s not condoning Objectivism; rather, it shows how Ayn Rand’s dream of the future would quickly go down the drain. But there’s an audio diary about a third of the way into the game that I’ve never really forgotten:

“Gregory, don’t come whining to me about market forces. And don’t expect me to punish citizens for showing a little initiative. If you don’t like what Fontaine is doing, well, I suggest you find a way to offer a better product.”

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