from the you-need-a-patent-to-add-a-voice-to-a-smoke-detector? dept
A year and a half ago, we wrote about the patent infringement lawsuit filed by Honeywell against Nest. Honeywell, of course has a huge market share for thermostats, while Nest is the innovative upstart — the darling of the tech set for rethinking how to make a simple thermostat and include Apple-style design touches and features. It was a perfect example of a complacent legacy player caught off-guard by a disruptive upstart… which then chooses to sue instead of just compete in the marketplace. Recently, Nest launched its second product to much fanfare: doing a similar rethinking of the lowly smoke detector — adding a bunch of features that make it more useful, safer and less annoying than today’s common smoke detectors. Hurray for innovation.
And so, of course, Nest has now been sued for patent infringement again, this time by BRK, makers of “First Alert,” which holds a patent on certain features, like having a smoke detector that uses a voice instead of a loud beeping. Wait, you may be saying to yourself: you can patent using a voice in a smoke detector, instead of a beep? According to BRK, apparently you can get six such patents: 6,144,310, 6,600,424, 6,323,780, 6,784,798, 7,158,040 and 6,377,182. Okay, okay, I exaggerate. Only five of those six patents are about voice alarms. One is about how the damn thing is mounted.
Part of the lawsuit seems to suggest that the folks at BRK are just kinda pissed off at Nest’s marketing — in which they’ve said that “there has been no innovation in the market for years.” That was clearly an exaggeration for marketing effect. What BRK is really angry about is that Nest’s marketing is working. But that’s how competition works. Yes, perhaps BRK put voices into smoke detectors first — and that’s great. But being first is meaningless. What matters is if you can get people to use the devices, and Nest is doing a good job getting the word out. If BRK were smart, it would recognize that Nest is helping to educate the market, and that should increase the opportunity to get their own products more well known. Compete in the marketplace, don’t try to shut down the upstart because you’re jealous that they’re the hot new thing.
Furthermore: I’ve got two of the BRK First Alert smoke detectors/carbon monoxide detectors in my house already. They’re definitely a step up from the traditional kind of smoke detectors (of which I’ve got another half a dozen around the house as well). But, frankly, the Nest Protect goes way beyond what the First Alert does and puts it in a much more compelling package. It’s got lots of innovations that go way beyond just adding a voice, providing more detailed information, and is a product more likely to keep you safe.
In Nest’s response, it points out that merely adding voice to a smoke detector was an obvious concept and shouldn’t be patentable — also pointing out that there’s significant prior art. There’s also the (big) problem that BRK doesn’t own most of the patents in the lawsuit. Instead, they’re owned by Gary Morris, the inventor, who licensed (but did not assign) them to BRK. BRK argues that it has the exclusive license to those patents, which could potentially mean it has the right to sue, but Nest points out that Morris shows those patents available for license on his website, suggesting otherwise (though, I just looked and it appears those particular patents are no longer listed on his website…).
Either way, BRK may be jealous, but it should channel that effort into building a better product and convincing people to buy it. Don’t stomp on the competition just because the new guy is getting some attention: innovate and compete. The world will be a better place and more people will be protected from home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Isn’t that better than trying to shut down a product that might help keep people safe?