In 2012, Honeywell, a manufacturer well-known for producing thermostats and other home appliances, sued Nest for patent infringement based on their Learning Thermostat technology. At the time, Nest's Chief Executive Officer was particularly scathing of Honeywell, claiming that the climate control manufacturer was "worse than a troll" and were using an old, invalid patent to stifle innovation in the thermostat market. He went on to blast Honeywell's flagship thermostat as representing little more than a prettier LCD front end with essentially the same technology behind it. Two years later, Google bought Nest, aware of the patent case with Honeywell, and presumably have been working to resolve the issue.
Yesterday, Google and Honeywell announced that they had reached an agreement to resolve the patent dispute. The details of the settlement are not disclosed but we understand that the two businesses had reached a long term patent cross-license agreement. It has not been made clear if money has exchanged between the two businesses as the terms are confidential. The companies explained that their settlement was based on the strengths of each patent portfolio and that the deal will encourage product innovation and consumer choice for smart home thermostats: it is difficult to interpret what exactly this means.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what Honeywell do to develop their product line following this resolution. Honeywell already build climate control systems that can communicate with the wider world via open standards such as LonWorks and BACnet, and some industry commentators believe that these new standards could easily be reversed into today's smart home control systems. These industrial control networks typically use wired connections rather than the wireless networking system of the current generation of smart home products, but it is possible that Nest and Honeywell will both build control mechanisms that incorporate both technologies. Ultimately, the home automation market would benefit from adopting an existing infrastructure and the industry will likely grow quicker should different manufacturers agree to cooperate with one another. In any event, we would hope that industrial, commercial and home smart systems will have an element of interoperability as the Internet of Things picks up pace. Meanwhile, it's good that Google and Honeywell have agreed to bury the hatchet and both businesses can now concentrate on improving, building and promoting their technologies.