Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Nest Fires Back in Honeywell Suit, Brings Apple Chief Legal Counsel on Board

The fight over a thermostat just heated up some more.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nest, maker of a “smart” thermostat and target of a patent-infringement lawsuit filed by industrial giant Honeywell, has submitted a formal response to Honeywell’s claims.

The start-up has also brought Richard “Chip” Lutton, a 10-year Apple Inc. veteran who managed the company’s patent portfolio, on board as vice president and general counsel.

In Honeywell’s suit against Nest, first filed in a U.S. district court in Minnesota on Feb. 6, Honeywell, maker of the iconic round thermostat, identified seven patents it believes Nest Labs infringes on with its Nest Learning Thermostat, a digital thermostat that came to market late last year. (You can read more about Honeywell’s complaint here.)

And now Nest has fired back.

“Nest does not use the Honeywell patents; but even if the patents covered what Honeywell alleges, they are hopelessly invalid. They are retreads — already invented by others years before …” the response reads.

Nest goes on to point out that specific patents — around remotely controlling temperature set-point marks, displaying temperature set points on an LCD inside a rotating ring, and presenting a user of an HVAC controller with “complete grammatical sentences” — are either indistinguishable from earlier Honeywell patents or aren’t worthy of a patent.

Chip Lutton, Nest's new vice president and general counsel.

The start-up does admit it was using Honeywell thermostats as research in its labs, stating, “Nest Labs admits that some Honeywell thermostats and/or boxes for Honeywell thermostats are shown in the photograph.” In the original filing, Honeywell references an AllThingsD video from last year showing that Nest Labs was examining “numerous” Honeywell thermostats in its research, indicating that Nest was aware of Honeywell’s contributions to the thermostat industry.

Despite the fact that Honeywell is an “industrial behemoth” with revenues that exceeded $36 billion in 2011, Nest says the company hasn’t innovated. “That ‘blah-looking controller’ on the market today is very often from Honeywell, which has long dominated the thermostat market, but has yet to generate a device that offers ordinary consumers as much as the Nest Learning Thermostat,” Nest claims.

Through the nature of its response and by bringing in Lutton, Nest doesn’t seem to be shying away from a battle with Honeywell, despite the David-and-Goliath nature of the fight.

Lutton’s departure from Apple was first reported last July, just as Apple was filing another complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission, seeking a ban on the import of electronics and software made by rival HTC. That, of course, was just one complaint amid an ever-expanding web of patent lawsuits flying between Apple, Samsung, Motorola and Nokia, to name a few.

According to the Reuters report, Lutton is well-known in IP circles, and was once mentioned as a possible nominee for the Federal Circuit, which hears patent appeals.

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