Economist Alex Tabarrok, author of Launching the Innovation Renaissance and Marginal Revolution blogger, worries that the proliferation of patents is stifling innovation, particularly patents for business processes. In an interview with Russ Roberts for EconTalk, Tabarrok remarked that large companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google building up massive numbers of patents mostly to insulate themselves from costly patent battles. One side effect of this defensive effort is that smaller innovators can themselves end up in costly patent battles when trying to innovate in the same product space.
Maybe Tabarrok has another example on his hands.
This morning Honeywell International, Inc. (market capitalization of more than $46 billion) filed a patent infringement lawsuit against little Nest Labs, Inc. (unknown capitalization, but backed by a number of venture capital firms). Honeywell is also suing retailer Best Buy which has a marketing arrangement with Nest Lab. (Prior link goes to the lawsuit. More: news release, reports by GigaOm, Mashable Tech, GreenWire, Dow Jones Newswires, and CNet.)
Honeywell asserts Nest infringed several patents: one for methods that use natural language to decrease the time and complexity of programming a thermostat, another for thermostats that indicate how long it will take to reach a desired temperature, another for a thermostat that relies on remotely stored data to manage energy costs, another three patents related to having a rotating portion of the thermostat set one or more parameters of the device, and finally, a patent for powering a thermostat by drawing power from one or more of the circuits controlled by the thermostat. All of the patents have been issued since 2005.
I have no insights into the workings of the intellectual property system, and I’ll spare you my unrefined attitudes on the matter. My only interest is in encouraging innovation that supports energy users.
RELATED, from Quora: What is it like to own a Nest thermostat?
BELOW, image of a Honeywell thermostat app running on a tablet computer.
ALSO: Previously on KP, “Nest’s elegant learning thermostat — but is it transactive?“