You're officially successful enough to be sued by entrenched non-innovators who took out overly broad patents so that they would be able to milk anyone who successfully built and marketed a product.
Honeywell makes damn near every wall thermostat I've ever seen, so it's not like they haven't had time to think about this application area.
But, stupidly, they don't sell it in stores, they sell it through HVAC contractors, so do-it-yourselfers won't run into them at the hardware store.
Well, actually they do make this(1) but it's got a hefty price tag and it's made for enterprise users, not homes.
"Prestige Comfort Systems have Honeywell RedLINKTM technology inside - giving you endless possibilities for controlling and monitoring comfort inside your home"
And there's the obvious bug fixing. You are stuck with a defective device if you can't update it.
Remove control and it's easy to remove buttons. There is no brilliant design or innovation there. Whether the removed control is logical or beneficial, however, is a completely different matter -- there is absolutely zero evidence that the Nest delivers on the farfetched promises it makes.
I personally can't believe it has gotten as much attention as it has. It is a non-solution for a non-problem. The single and only reason it got coverage was the Apple angle.
I beg to differ. Deciding which control to remove is the essence of brilliant design and innovation. To paraphrase Einstein, good design is as simple as possible, and no simpler.
The iPod didn't allow you to manage files on your device, letting it be simpler than Creative's products. Yes, it also overcame a bunch of other barriers (physical interface, size, skipping, transfer speed, etc), but removing what everyone erroneously assumed was essential certainly contributed to their success. It's no surprise that the Nest guys are using the same playbook.
As for Nest's claims, I assume you're talking about energy savings and, if so, are so very, very wrong: I'm a software developer and rarely adjusted the program on my old Honeywell thermostat because it took a minimum of 7 * 3 button clicks (morning, evening, night for each day of the week) simply to navigate through the program. I'm rather confident that the average American is even less likely to put up with all of that clicking and simply leaves at anything which isn't uncomfortable, even if it does waste power.
Not really, unless your world is binary. There are a lot of extremely refined, slick implementations out there. You don't know about them because they couldn't be called the "ipod of thermostats" (with leading comparisons with the ugliest, most rudimentary thermostats, as if the giant industry doesn't exist).
As for Nest's claims, I assume you're talking about energy savings and, if so, are so very, very wrong...I'm rather confident that the average American...
It is interesting how you arrived at such an energy claim with no clear avenue between the beginning and the end.
As for the promise of saving energy, either reading Nest's citations or spending a second or two on Google might prove educational as to the current gap between what is technically possible and what people actually do:
Well, yes, that's exactly what he's saying, because that's exactly the market Nest is targeting. What's your point?
It reeks of HN bias that no one in their right mind should ever become an employee of some corporation because they aren't making a shiny box or a X, Y, Z website (substitute your favorite tech of the month for X, Y, and Z)
In general, I wouldn't defend that statement (which isn't mine). But I would defend the statement that these are either not "innovations", or certainly are innovations so obvious they are mostly or entirely not worthy of government-granted monopoly: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3558260
But I don't think they sell them in regular stores much, so you don't see them on the rack at Home Depot. You only see the cheaper lower-end models with all the buttons.
Honeywell sells their $250 fancy thermostats through HVAC contractors, so do-it-yourself types probably won't encounter them.
Nest might not be taking advantage of a gap in technology in the thermostat market, so much as taking advantage of a flawed distribution model.
Further proof that Congress has failed to create a patent system that "promotes the Sciences and the useful Arts"
...and now we have a slightly improved understanding of why that is, since the underlying technology is not highly advanced.
There are many areas of technology in the home that are controlled by very old companies that are in markets that are very slow to innovate. The real proof of this is in these patents (q.v.), which detail seemingly near-archaic technology. Seriously, this is their state of the art? These are exactly the kind of competitors you want to have.
That is a byproduct of the fact that brands and design for home technology last a long, long time. Recently, I replaced my gas water heater valve and discovered that it's a part that's been around since the 1950's in its current design. Proven technology sticks around. Similarly, Honeywell has been in thermostats since forever.
Finally, the margins in this business can be pretty impressive. There are home appliances and technology products whose premium versions cost twice as much as the regular version even though they're not much different. Some people are just willing to spend a good bit more for the absolute best. Very much an Apple market strategy (i.e. high-capacity iPods).
I hope to see Nest introduce more devices like their learning thermostat soon, as well as a new way for them to communicate and be controlled which can hopefully improve on and replace the ancient X10 automation standard. Nest is in a great position right now.
7,634,504 - Natural Language Installer Set Up for Controller (http://www.google.com/patents/US7634504) - The claims really are as broad as the title implies, claiming to cover any system that presents the user questions in natural language, allows the user to select among multiple choices, and then modifies the HVAC settings based on their response.
7,142,948 - Controller Interface with Dynamic Schedule Display (http://www.google.com/patents/US7142948) - Claims to cover any controller that can change temperature from one temperature to a second temperature, while displaying an ETA for reaching the second temperature.
7,584,899 - HVAC Controller (http://www.google.com/patents/US7584899) - Claims the idea of having a movable housing over a display that, when rotated, changes an HVAC-system parameter that is reflected on that display.
7,159,789 - Thermostat with Mechanical User Interface (http://www.google.com/patents/US7159789) - A rotatable selector with several selectable positions, and a potentiometer. For an HVAC system.
7,159,790 - Thermostat with Offset Drive (http://www.google.com/patents/US7159790) - Some more rotatable-selector inventions, involving linking mechanical position and electrical signals.
7,476,988 - Power Stealing Control Devices (http://www.google.com/patents/US7476988) - Something to do with switching between primary and secondary power sources. My EE is too rusty to figure out exactly what this one is claiming without spending more time than I'd like on it.
6,975,958 - Profile Based Method for Deriving a Temperature Setpoint Using a 'Delta' Based On Cross-Indexing a Received Price-Point Level Signal (http://www.google.com/patents/US6975958) - Claim 1 is even broader than the title, claiming to have invented and patented the idea of adjusting an HVAC system's setpoints based on communicating with a remote host.
They strongly have the flavor of taking some standard control method (rotating knobs attached to potentiometers, 1950s-style feedback control & rate prediction), tacking on "for an HVAC system", and deeming the result, which applies standard control techniques in the obvious way to the domain, an "invention".
Anecdotal personal experience being part of patent applications has showed me that almost any idea, as long as there are no mainstream examples of prior art, can be patented given time (will take 4-5 years these days) and money. Most decently smart people will come up with patentable ideas all the time, just doing their job, but won't file because they don't have the desire or resources (and don't understand why their only somewhat-novel obvious-to-them idea is patentable).
"The idea that I can be presented with a problem, set out to logically solve it with the tools at hand, and wind up with a program that could not be legally used because someone else followed the same logical steps some years ago and filed for a patent on it is horrifying." - John Carmack
You'd almost think that they were getting money for accepting patent applications...
<Edit>This is a perfect example of mismatched incentives. The patent office has a lot of incentive (in the form of attracting user fees) for issuing dubious patents, and no real disincentive for doing the same.
Although, if I were to take your implication correctly - there should be no incentive to take a patent or reject a patent other than its merit.
Which would in turn imply no cost on applying for a patent, except its applicability after review.
But that would also create a perverse incentive for firms to submit patents all the time - there is no cost involved, no barrier of entry and hence no loss in making the effort.
Alternatively, we could have a very quick review system, which would mean that soon after patent submission you get rejection or acceptance. Which would mean that the patent office would need significantly more funding - considering the number of patents it receives vs people who have to review.
If there was a solution which could automate the search for prior art, that would be cool, and a way to reduce the size of the work load.
Its do-able, but I am certain that the law of unintended consequences was written to describe situations like these.
For example, in your suggestion, the part where we move the onus onto the courts, will gum up the courts. I live in India, where courts are constantly arbiting cases, and people know that if your case gets into court, it could be there for ever. Thats not a side effect we want to induce.
Now you could build in redundancy for that eventuality by expanding the number of people in court, justices and areas, but then in essence, you are moving the burden from department X to department N, with the added problem that those new people will be from law, and not a technical background.
I really do think that this is a case where people should just get someone whos a technocrat in charge, give him authority and funds, and then forget about it while the patent office is built back up into an institution that people respect.
They have over 100 people, and if rumours are true have quite significant backing. Which is particularly interesting as it's hard to see on the surface where their margins come from on a device most could consider as novel and expensive.
Though there are potentially gains to be had from a smarter thermostat, the headline figures in their white papers will most likely never be realised in the real world. Most reviews and bloggers seem to get caught up in focusing on the simple heating and cooling experience.
The company on makes sense once you look at it in the context of the larger market. The silent but important features are zigbee integration (current unused), and excessive processing power. We are just on the cusp of huge smart-grid rollouts in many western countries. British gas in the UK has decided on the zigbee standard and are starting to roll out over 1000 new meters a day; with government backing for an £11bn rollout to 27 million households by 2019.
In light of these rollouts, the energy companies will be looking to capitalize on their investment (which will be mostly funded by the consumer, via higher bills). The hardest part is figuring out what the consumer face of the smart grid should look like. Expensive 'home hubs' and touch screens are a red herring - the future is distributed (every household members phone etc), yet you still need a link between the rather 'dumb but integrated' meters, and devices in the house.
In my opinion nest's game plan is to become that link. Your thermostat controls around 50% of the energy usage in your house. Eventually it has the potential to control 100%. With smart GPS integration into your phones it becomes realistic to have houses that react silently to it's various inhabitants patterns and blend those needs with the energy grids demand levels; now this is a valuable proposition. If you're an energy company absorbing several billion because of government pressure, suddenly the hardware cost of a nest doesn't seem so bad, especially if it can be offset or laid off over time.
edit; footnote - All figures are rough (off the top of my head)
I'm curious what you find so interesting about it. I've had an Ecobee thermostat (http://www.ecobee.com/solutions/home/smart/) for years and have even done silly hacks with it like integrating it with my wireless access point to detect when I'm home (http://jcs.org/ecobee) and making a SiriProxy plugin to be able control it with an iPhone (http://flic.kr/p/aNuGaF).
But even before the Ecobee, programmable and even WiFi-enabled thermostats have been around for many years and they have not gained any significant traction. My dad owns an HVAC company and they've only sold 1 or 2 Ecobee units in the years they've stocked them, with most people just opting for a schedule-based programmable thermostat.
What makes the Nest so much different? Is it just that it's pretty? Right now, their website says it costs $250. For the average person, that's probably at least a few years of energy savings needed to justify that cost.
You bought an Ecobee thermostat, integrated it with your access point, and made a SiriProxy plugin.
This is awesome but think about it for the general consumer. They just want shit to work.
This is what makes Nest different.
That's like asking:
- Why is the iPod different from all the mp3 players on the market?
- Why is the iPhone different from all the smart phones on the market?
- Why is the iPad different from all the tablets on the market?
None of these questions are easy to answer in full, if they were Apple would have more serious competition. The simple answer is:
Because the overall experience of owning them, for the average person, is better than with the alternatives.
I suspect the current hype about the Nest is due to two reasons: 1) Apple people made it, and Apple is newsworthy right now; 2) it doesn't look like other thermostats, it looks easy to use and unique. I think that right now the Nest's aesthetic is getting it traction, time will tell if that's enough to get it sales.
Homes HAVE to get smarter. The market dictates this. But up to this point, the cost to gain ratio has been far out of balance, not to mention the approach of poor quality touch screens and feature lists that read like a 1999 computer spec :) I agree nest is too expensive at $250, but I doubt that it will hold that price tag for long, partnerships are coming I'm sure.
It's a little like asking what made the iPhone different to the nokia of the day, or Dropbox to FTP. It's more about market timing, pricing and user experience than anything in a spec.
What else? Put bluntly; timing, founders and funding.
Am I mistaken in thinking that the Ecobee is significantly more expensive than the Nest?
That's an interesting point. Here in Ontario we have smart electrical meters so that the hydro company can charge you different rates depending on the time of day; running the A/C during work hours is more expensive than running it at night, and so on. It would be interesting if household devices were aware of these cost-of-power schedules so that you could put laundry in a dryer and set it to "dry in the 12 hours, whenever electricity is cheapest".
Running the washing machine at night when it's cheapest may not be desired, rather running it when no one is home and it's off peak. Turning on alarms, switching off lights, dropping temperature automatically. Allowing individuals in the household to have their own work patterns and temperature presets etc.
The key point is that it has to be effortless. No complex interfaces or setup. Plug, play, forget. And only in the next 12-24 months do enough technologies hit critical mass to make it economically feasible.
How this sill interact with the ZigBee push for IPV6 integration, for the Smart Energy profile at least, is anyone's guess.
Not that the company I work for really cares either way. Power companies are looking at smart grids, white good manufacturers are looking to include network functionality, and several people want to be the bridge between you and all of this. But as long as most people building ZigBee devices use our chips, we're happy.
I'm in the market for a programmable thermostat for my house. I had been considering several units, including yours and one from Nest Labs.
Apparently you've decided that it's more important to batter competitors with the legal system than actually, you know, put your supposed patents to use building a thermostat that your potential customers actually want to buy. You seem to be under the impression that suing other companies over patents on obvious ideas will make your own products look more attractive.
It's clear that you're out of touch with your market. I don't know what unit I'm going to buy for my house, but I can promise you that it won't be a Honeywell thermostat.
Putting aside the patent issue, if you and lots of other people send such emails, aren't you simply making it easier for Honeywell's lawyers to estimate damages owed?
Now you get to go out there and research every thermostat manufacturer to find out which ones aren't paying a licensing fee to Honeywell for these (and other) patents.
I think there's a very good chance that I've misunderstood your comment, but - for the sake of doubt - please tell me that you're not advocating fraud :)
Doesn't matter much, if they are still able to shut down a competitor like Nest legally, especially seeing as millions of people will continue to buy their products.
Better join some action to abolish the stupid patent laws.
I can't do anything about millions of people, but I can do something about my own buying patterns. I can also tell others why I did so and hope they agree with me.
However, in the space they operate they need patents to ward off other companies with large patent portfolios. In fact, he likened what they do to creating mine-fields. To make it really, really dangerous for other companies to even try to compete with you. And to make sure that no challengers will get uppity with you.
In any case, what stuck with me was what he said about his next startup; in his next startup he would spend most of the money on patent lawyers. Because inventing, developing and bringing an invention to market is just too risky these days. The money is better spent on rigging whatever IPR you have with patents to "increase the number of possible exit strategies".
This makes me really sad.
Like another commenter mentioned, these are the rules of the game in the US. Complain about them and try to get them changed... I'm all for that because I think the rules are hurting innovation. But Nest is no victim here, and Honeywell isn't the devil. I'm more sympathetic to the garage shops that get hammered by big companies, but Nest is far from a garage shop. They knew what they were getting into.
If their patent work left them confident that there were OK, then the courts will see if they're right. If they chose to take a chance... this is what can happen.
The only trouble with that statement is that it's completely incoherent. On the most charitable reading of it, there is no way not to "take a chance." This is, in fact, the very thing that you're obscuring, whether by accident or design. If the patent system is a structural quagmire that stifles innovation, then that is the problem precisely because "due diligence" is impossible.
Incredibly, you continue:
But Nest is no victim here...
Yes. Yes, they are. They may be an affluent victim. An able victim. But a victim nonetheless. And, as long as this kind of victimization is allowed to continue, innovation will continue to carry a market-altering penalty that retards human progress. And, lest you think I'm being grandiose in my assessment of this thermostat as an example of human progress, it saves energy, and energy is one of the more pressing problems facing humanity.
They knew what they were getting into.
"But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look at how short that skirt was, and she decided to walk home on a Friday night! Drunk! Who's the real victim here? My client couldn't resist!"
... who, as the GP points out, played the game with the best of them. Live by the patent sword, die by the patent sword.
I like the idea someone posted on HN a few months ago; it should be possible to "opt out" of the patent system entirely. You can't be sued for patent infringement, but you also can't hold any patents yourself. Let's do that, and watch the market determine whether patents are really good for innovation or not.
So if Nest had owned no patents, Honeywell would not have sued them? I find this exceedingly hard to believe.
This is a stupid idea.
Basically, anyone who does actually invent something that's legitimately worth patenting (by whatever metric you please), then patents it and (as required by the process of patenting) details the invention, somebody can just come along and take that work and use it and the inventor gets screwed.
Fix the patent system or ditch it. The opt-out idea, though, is nonsensical.
I understand that tech patents are just a part of the business, but coming from the little guy here, how do I not get slapped with a lawsuit for having an idea?
Thanks US patent system.
seriously every time someone sues someone else about a patent the whole world screams bloody murder.
sure Honeywell's devices does not look like they come out of an apple lab but I think they have a right to protect their IP.
How about: If a patent is not implemented in a marketed product within two years (for a mechanical product) and 4 (or 5 years for a chemical product), the patent is void. In other words, no more patenting things and then sitting on them and suing others. Also, only certain entities would be able to patent something and then license it out (like the government, universities, legitimate research outfits, etc.).
Just thinking off the top of my head here.
I think that cure would be worse than the disease. It'd be a major incentive for large companies to say "no thanks" to small inventors, knowing that they can just copy it two years later.
By definition, patents exist to prevent competition. If you build a product, it should compete with everything else. If you can't stand competition, get out of the way of those who can.
If that's the case, they're basically building an artificial moat. So what now? Does Honeywell sue Nest out of existence? Require Nest license their patent? What are some likely goals and motives? What happens now?
There's a big difference between saying we WANT to go the moon, versus we WENT to the moon, or even we CAN go to the moon.
But does anyone else see a continuum between this and the dustup over the 5-word already-derivative "stay focused & keep shipping" poster last week?
Should we be upset about this and not that?
What I take issue with is the granting of such trivial patents in the first place.
edit: (non-trivial --> trivial)
How hard would it have been for Honeywell to slap out a craptacular prototype product to be "in the market" and then sue Nest? Not hard, if they cared to do it.
How hard would it be for Nest (or another small company), if they had the original patent, to bring a product to the market in order to qualify to sue Honeywell? Maybe not impossible, but surely harder than the reverse.
If I grant that patents should exist, or at least that they DO exist, it seems reasonable that reducing an invention to practice (but not necessarily to marketability) is enough to go seek a patent, such that you could then seek funding or partnership opportunities at far more favorable terms than if all you had was a secret invention that you couldn't patent until you were able to bring it to market with money you didn't have and couldn't get.
1-excepting perhaps in drug discovery cases, where I am less certain of what I think
Or did you think companies would follow the guidelines in good faith??
1. I sue Nest, freak them out.
2. I offer to buy them out on the cheap.
3. Nest sells themselves "gracefully".
4. Techcrunch: "Honeywell acquires Nest for $1 million!"
5. Honeywell says: "Nest acquisition will enhance our shareholders value."
6. Honeywell sells a little bit of Nest product.
7. End game: Honeywell decides that there's not enough demand for Nest product. Nest team is fired. Product dies.
Given the people involved in NEST, and the capital behind them, this isn't "two easily scared dorm-room occupants". Most likely patent lawsuits were anticipated, and potentially even budgeted for in terms of licensing costs being assumed at some point.
This is, IMO, another example of a company (Honeywell) with a book of patents they don't truly understand how to leverage on their own making a money-grab. I would wager a guess that this plays out very uninterestingly overall.
Show me where to buy one of these!