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April 12, 2012
Nest Fires Back At Honeywell
A couple months ago, Nest found itself on the wrong end of a patent-infringement lawsuit
from Honeywell, over so-called smart thermostats. At the time, I thought that Nest would probably choose to settle rather than get dragged into a possible protracted bit of litigation against a much-bigger company. Honeywell makes tens of thousands of products and smart thermostats are a tiny fraction of their business. For Nest, though, they're the showcase - the whole point.
This morning, Kate Brinks (the official Press Contact for Nest) was kind enough to send me a copy of Nest's just-filed response. It's dressed up in polite language, but what it amounts to is Nest calling "BS" on Honeywell, and filing its own counter-claims. In order to lead this fight it has brought on board one Chip Lutton who hasn't even had time to update his LinkedIn profile there. See, he's left Apple and joined Nest as Chief Counsel. This is very good news for Nest, I think, as Lutton has been helping steer Apple's worldwide patent war and knows a thing or two about how big companies do the patent dance.
So, what do Lutton and Nest have to say in response to Honeywell's charges of patent and design infringement? It's the usual - Honeywell are stifling competition, their patents are "hopelessly invalid" where they are "not worthy of a patent". The deep deep irony of someone from Apple complaining that someone else is asserting crap patents is apparently not a factor in drafting press releases like these. In summary: Nest are going to challenge the patents' validity, push for re-examination, and hope that the judge finds that they have sufficient grounds to proceed. If the judge thinks they have even a reasonable chance then it's likely they won't be hit with an injunction and can go on building their business.
If Honeywell is able to convince a judge otherwise it's possible Nest could be cut off from its sole source of revenue, which would make its investors even less happy. My guess is that Lutton's first job is to make sure that doesn't happen. Whether this leads to serious negotiations or to a courtroom date afterward is something we probably won't know for many months.
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