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Honeywell sues Nest Labs, Best Buy over smart thermostat tech

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Nest Labs, the company behind the Apple design-inspired smart learning thermostat, has been socked with a patent infringement lawsuit.

Nest Labs, the company behind the Apple design-inspired smart learning thermostat, has been socked with a patent infringement lawsuit. Home automation and control systems giant Honeywell today filed a lawsuit alleging infringement of seven patents related to its thermostat technology. The suit also names Best Buy, the big box retailer that is selling Nest's Learning Thermostat.

Nest Labs, founded by former Apple product engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, has received a lot of attention over the launch of the "world's first" learning thermostat. The Nest uses six sensors to learn a user's preferred temperatures and schedule and then adjust the setting accordingly. It also senses when you've left the house and can give energy saving tips all in a sleekly designed package. It turns out, as Gigaom reporter Katie Fehrenbacher noted just last week, Honeywell tested out its own learning thermostat 20 years ago. Honeywell ultimately killed the concept after poor consumer response.

Honeywell's lawsuit doesn't stem directly from its long-since dead learning thermostat experiment. This is about infringements on technology Honeywell developed and in some cases is contained within products currently on the market. Honeywell says Nest knowingly infringed on a number of its patented technologies including the set of questions asked when first programming the thermostat; the time to temperature function; and the power stealing control, which allows the thermostat to draw charge from the home's electrical system.

"Competition is good and we welcome it, but we will not stand by while competitors, large or small, offer products that infringe on our intellectual property," Beth Wozniak, president of Honeywell Environmental and Combustion Controls said in a statement today.

Nest, while it enjoys support from Google's venture capital arm as well as VC giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, definitely falls Honeywell's small competitor category.  That's not to say a small company can't bring about a disruptive technology. Nest, which has grappled with a back log of orders since November, now faces a new, potentially expensive hurdle to keep its $250 thermostats on store shelves.

Photo: Nest Labs

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure