Nest Labs Hires Apple's Former Patent Chief for Honeywell Lawsuit

Sarah Kessler
April 12, 2012

The same patent lawyer who defended iPad, iPod and iPhone technology is now defending thermostat tech for Nest Labs.

Nest Labs announced on Thursday that Richard Lutton Jr., Apple's former chief intellectual property officer, will be joining the startup thermostat maker as general counsel.

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His first task will be to defend the company from a patent lawsuit filed by Honeywell in February, which alleges Nest Labs' only product, a $249 self-adjusting thermostat called Nest, infringes on seven of its thermostat patents.

Nest Labs says Honeywell is using a patent-attack strategy to stifle competition.

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"Instead of countering product innovation with its own new products, Honeywell has a track record of responding to innovation with lawsuits and overextended claims of intellectual property violations," the startup wrote in a response filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

In the filing, Nest Labs argues that Honeywell's patents are "hopelessly invalid" because they were used by other companies for years before Honeywell applied for them.

Patent lawsuits have become so prevalent in technology that Google cited them as one reason it wants to pay $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility. In an interview with The New York Times, Lutton says that the number of patents Apple applied for per year increased from about 50 to about 1,000 since 2001.

In 2010, 107,792 patents were issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. While the system was designed to protect innovation, many entrepreneurs cite cases when it was instead used to stunt it.

If Apple-grade patent lawyers become a staple of the modern technology startup, it will be easy to see their point.

This story originally published on Mashable here.