Honeywell turns into patent troll against Nest

Smart thermostat startup Nest is furious that one of the technology industry’s oldest names, Honeywell, is claiming to have invented its technology.

Nest CEO Tony Fadell has dubbed Honeywell a patent troll which is trying to strangle his company.

Nest was praised to the skies when it released its Learning Thermostatlast year. However, Honeywell claims Nest is walking all over its patents.

Fadell said that most of those patents were “hopelessly invalid” and claimed the company is misusing its patents to stifle innovation.

Fadell is not a kid in a garage startup. He has had experience with patent lawsuits – as the former head of Apple’s iPod and iPhone programs.

At Apple he would face “an infringement letter probably every week” and he has hired former Apple chief patent counsel Richard “Chip” Lutton to give Honeywell a good kicking.

Lutton told the Verge that Honeywell’s patents are “not very impressive” and “not very relevant” to what Nest is doing.

He thinks that Honeywell comes in and tries to frighten new entrants out of the market.

Fadell said that Honeywell was not trying to get money out of Nest, it was trying to maintain the status quo.

He pointed out that the technology that Honeywell uses is a 70 years old thermostat which has an LCD on it.

Programmable thermostats sold by Honeywell have failed to find favour with consumers, leading the company to enter what Nest calls “damage control mode” after reviewers heaped praise on Nest’s version.

The case documents look like they will embarrass Honeywell. It contains phrases like “Nest denies that Honeywell is an innovator in the area of thermostat technology” and “Honeywell has a track record of responding to innovation with lawsuits and overextended claims of intellectual property violations.”

The patents in question should be invalidated by prior art. Nest claims that some of Honeywell’s patents require mechanical components like a potentiometer, which the computer-controlled Learning Thermostat doesn’t need.

Honeywell appears to have applied for new patents for old technology and failed to mention to the patent office that they are old patents, Fadell said.

Honeywell does not appear to want to negotiate, and the fear is that it will sit back and try to bleed Nest dry through months of litigation.

It might have bitten off more than it can chew this time. Nest has investors like Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins who are offering to help.