Article
10
min read

Members' reactions to JCI lawsuits

March 4, 2022

Hey changemakers,

Since I sent out the news about JCI suing upstarts, I’ve received 35 email replies and our LinkedIn post has been viewed over 25,000 times. I even learned about a third lawsuit—this time versus KMC Controls.

It’s an understatement to say this has struck a nerve within our community. Here’s the reaction I’ve heard from you all:

“Yours infuriated that we’re again putting net zero in jeopardy because of cartel-esq behaviour and old school thinking”
“Good grief, this is irritating to hear. While I’m certainly no lawyer, this reeks of “patent troll.” It’s like JCI went out and filed patents on every facet of what’s commonly considered “standard” in a BAS stack, and is now demanding payment on that effort. If you can’t innovate and push the industry forward, just sue the ones that do and bring them back down to your level. Smh.
“I’ve seen this ‘movie’ before, customers lose and partners become strangers.”
“No industry can thrive if everyone becomes a "leader". An Industry needs a mix of Ideators, Inventors, Innovators, Improvisors and Implementers! With all the bad news around, "patent-wars" are the last thing we need!”
"This kind of behaviour is the exact reason why I cannot stand the big 4."
"These suits are shocking, I don’t understand how the US patent office granted these"
“Annnnnd... this explains why we don't have explosive growth in the "smart building" market”
“ tough look for the industry that is already got a reputation for stifling innovation.”
“its ''who killed the electric car'' all over again ..... eye roll emogi is not quite strong enough .... sad and dissapointing but not unexpected.”

And I’m not trying to pick on JCI here, but it also seemed to hit a pre-existing sentiment. People in this community have really staled on JCI and their business practices:

“​​Great newsletter, hits home. The university I work for is 100% JCI Metasys and it's a huge roadblock for us as we work towards a climate neutrality. With outdated controls, anytime we have funding to upgrade controls and implement more efficient strategies, we've got to kick and scream for competitive material costs.”
“The FDD work that eventually made it into Guideline 36 was originally done back in 2000 but never made it into use because JCI sued NIST for patent infringement.
It's been a number of years now, but at the time I reviewed the patents.  They were essentially a patent on any kind of automatic fault detection.  Even simple alarms would be in violation.  It was incredibly overbroad.  The NIST guys straight up told me that they knew the patent was not enforceable, but NIST doesn't have the lawyer budget that JCI does so they had to just roll over.
By the time I was doing this work, the patents were within a year of expiration, so we were able to use the work with no concerns, and JCI (despite being part of the research project team) didn't say anything.
It sucks that they are back to their old tricks. I try to exclude JCI as a manufacturer whenever I can.  They are not good corporate citizens.”
“So firstly wow, what this shows is now not only do they want to lock customers in, but they also want to lock competition out.”
“JCI is desperately trying to hold on to a long tail strategy of creating scarcity and creating high switching costs.  They are then layering poor service on top of high costs.  Now they are trying to sue their way to profitability. Their days as a player in the smart building industry are waning fast. I have just made renovations to kick JCI out of my buildings.“
“They are losing market share and their existing customer base is dwindling.  They realize they are preventing their own customers from advancing technology in their buildings. This is the hindrance they've recognized. Open Blue was created as a way to convince everyone that innovation was coming. Two years later, Open Blue is still no more than a marketing campaign and their third failed attempt at a cloud based solution.”

And lucky for us non-lawyers, I also heard from many of you that know how the patent game works. Here are some great tidbits from those folks:

“Unfortunately the patent landscape is dominated by how much money you have and how that money can pay for the best lawyers. No-one would have predicted that Nest would manage to invalidate Honeywell's patents on round thermostats for instance, least of all by referencing an abandoned Volkswagen patent.
One bright spot in this space is that many of these ideas were patented so long ago that their patents have expired. Usually big companies have filed additional patents later covering enhancements to those earlier ones, so that's where the good / expensive lawyers come in to claim you do/don't infringe on the newer patent.”
“I was a little surprised with patents issued & they going after startups like that, there are many possible reasons but one impact always is that any future investor or acquirer will not want to own a piece of company that is litigated or would heavily discount it's valuation. Can be sometimes strategic move if you know a competitor is trying to acquire.”
“Thanks for bringing this up. JCI has enough money and attorneys to patent just about anything in a broad and all-encompassing way. Just like the one you referenced.
"Their engineers are incentivized to submit patents. Ironically, they’ll patent something truly brilliant, but have no intention of ever making it."
“Went down a rabbit hole and came across this article from a year ago. It references a cyclical uptick in recent activity, and makes the point that "nuisance suits" can "detract from rather than encourage innovation and productivity.” It says that during times of economic uncertainty, companies tend to look for other ways to monetise their assets and/or maximise their investments.”
“The first thing you have to understand about JCI is that they operate like multiple separate companies internally, even competing with each other on the street. These JCI companies are very intentional with every decision they make, and the Willow suit is likely a business decision made within the vacuum of the legal dept.  They will go after others who have not properly protected themselves; as long as they view the action as profitable.  If it was about the IP, to your point, they would be suing everyone. It's just about the money. They do not see this as preventing others from advancing technology.  They see it as strategic.”
“I came across your recent post, since one of my connections follows you. Being in the IP space, I obviously found it interesting to see the JCI vs Start-up post you had. You probably know this already, but for all those start-ups to get in trouble with, e.g. the '556 JCI patent you mentioned, their product would need to comprise ALL of the features of an independent claim as it is called of that patent. Independent claims in the '556 are claims 1, 31 and 32... I copied claim 1 below (hence why google patent also highlights these 3 claims...).
I perfectly understand that despite the combination of features, sometimes these patents claim so trivial things it still is a problem for many... Just wanted to highlight that having one of these features is not an issue as such, the start-ups would really need to have all realized at once in their product..
I am aware it is confusing and complex topics, but just wanted to share some thoughts… My bet is more that JCI maybe spoke to these start-ups already and uses this as an negotiating tactic... Part of a complex IP strategy…

One thing I noticed in several responses is that there’s a huge silo between the lawyers and smart buildings nerds. The lawyers or those that don’t know JCI’s tech seemed to assume that the patents are legitimate IP:

“I know nothing of these companies but maybe there are some ex JCI employees (using JCI information) involved in the defendant companies that may have spurred JCI to sue?”

Whereas the smart buildings folks overwhelmingly feel that the patents are bullshit. I guess we’ll soon see!

Finally, there is a final category of responses I want to highlight: those of you that want to do something about this as a group. Some of you want to start a defense fund. We could even help the defendants by surfacing “prior art”. Some of you want to create a petition to boycott JCI’s products. Some of you want to grow the awareness beyond the Nexus community.

I’m with you. To help, I created a chat space in the Nexus Connect chatroom. Make sure you join the space so you get notifications whenever someone posts something new.

Talk to you over there!

—James

P.S. I almost forgot! Awards for the best funny reactions go to...

Drumroll please...

David Blanch, the Meme King:

Meme by David Blanch via LinkedIn

...and Ryan Droege with the Billy Madison quote:

Well done!

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Hey changemakers,

Since I sent out the news about JCI suing upstarts, I’ve received 35 email replies and our LinkedIn post has been viewed over 25,000 times. I even learned about a third lawsuit—this time versus KMC Controls.

It’s an understatement to say this has struck a nerve within our community. Here’s the reaction I’ve heard from you all:

“Yours infuriated that we’re again putting net zero in jeopardy because of cartel-esq behaviour and old school thinking”
“Good grief, this is irritating to hear. While I’m certainly no lawyer, this reeks of “patent troll.” It’s like JCI went out and filed patents on every facet of what’s commonly considered “standard” in a BAS stack, and is now demanding payment on that effort. If you can’t innovate and push the industry forward, just sue the ones that do and bring them back down to your level. Smh.
“I’ve seen this ‘movie’ before, customers lose and partners become strangers.”
“No industry can thrive if everyone becomes a "leader". An Industry needs a mix of Ideators, Inventors, Innovators, Improvisors and Implementers! With all the bad news around, "patent-wars" are the last thing we need!”
"This kind of behaviour is the exact reason why I cannot stand the big 4."
"These suits are shocking, I don’t understand how the US patent office granted these"
“Annnnnd... this explains why we don't have explosive growth in the "smart building" market”
“ tough look for the industry that is already got a reputation for stifling innovation.”
“its ''who killed the electric car'' all over again ..... eye roll emogi is not quite strong enough .... sad and dissapointing but not unexpected.”

And I’m not trying to pick on JCI here, but it also seemed to hit a pre-existing sentiment. People in this community have really staled on JCI and their business practices:

“​​Great newsletter, hits home. The university I work for is 100% JCI Metasys and it's a huge roadblock for us as we work towards a climate neutrality. With outdated controls, anytime we have funding to upgrade controls and implement more efficient strategies, we've got to kick and scream for competitive material costs.”
“The FDD work that eventually made it into Guideline 36 was originally done back in 2000 but never made it into use because JCI sued NIST for patent infringement.
It's been a number of years now, but at the time I reviewed the patents.  They were essentially a patent on any kind of automatic fault detection.  Even simple alarms would be in violation.  It was incredibly overbroad.  The NIST guys straight up told me that they knew the patent was not enforceable, but NIST doesn't have the lawyer budget that JCI does so they had to just roll over.
By the time I was doing this work, the patents were within a year of expiration, so we were able to use the work with no concerns, and JCI (despite being part of the research project team) didn't say anything.
It sucks that they are back to their old tricks. I try to exclude JCI as a manufacturer whenever I can.  They are not good corporate citizens.”
“So firstly wow, what this shows is now not only do they want to lock customers in, but they also want to lock competition out.”
“JCI is desperately trying to hold on to a long tail strategy of creating scarcity and creating high switching costs.  They are then layering poor service on top of high costs.  Now they are trying to sue their way to profitability. Their days as a player in the smart building industry are waning fast. I have just made renovations to kick JCI out of my buildings.“
“They are losing market share and their existing customer base is dwindling.  They realize they are preventing their own customers from advancing technology in their buildings. This is the hindrance they've recognized. Open Blue was created as a way to convince everyone that innovation was coming. Two years later, Open Blue is still no more than a marketing campaign and their third failed attempt at a cloud based solution.”

And lucky for us non-lawyers, I also heard from many of you that know how the patent game works. Here are some great tidbits from those folks:

“Unfortunately the patent landscape is dominated by how much money you have and how that money can pay for the best lawyers. No-one would have predicted that Nest would manage to invalidate Honeywell's patents on round thermostats for instance, least of all by referencing an abandoned Volkswagen patent.
One bright spot in this space is that many of these ideas were patented so long ago that their patents have expired. Usually big companies have filed additional patents later covering enhancements to those earlier ones, so that's where the good / expensive lawyers come in to claim you do/don't infringe on the newer patent.”
“I was a little surprised with patents issued & they going after startups like that, there are many possible reasons but one impact always is that any future investor or acquirer will not want to own a piece of company that is litigated or would heavily discount it's valuation. Can be sometimes strategic move if you know a competitor is trying to acquire.”
“Thanks for bringing this up. JCI has enough money and attorneys to patent just about anything in a broad and all-encompassing way. Just like the one you referenced.
"Their engineers are incentivized to submit patents. Ironically, they’ll patent something truly brilliant, but have no intention of ever making it."
“Went down a rabbit hole and came across this article from a year ago. It references a cyclical uptick in recent activity, and makes the point that "nuisance suits" can "detract from rather than encourage innovation and productivity.” It says that during times of economic uncertainty, companies tend to look for other ways to monetise their assets and/or maximise their investments.”
“The first thing you have to understand about JCI is that they operate like multiple separate companies internally, even competing with each other on the street. These JCI companies are very intentional with every decision they make, and the Willow suit is likely a business decision made within the vacuum of the legal dept.  They will go after others who have not properly protected themselves; as long as they view the action as profitable.  If it was about the IP, to your point, they would be suing everyone. It's just about the money. They do not see this as preventing others from advancing technology.  They see it as strategic.”
“I came across your recent post, since one of my connections follows you. Being in the IP space, I obviously found it interesting to see the JCI vs Start-up post you had. You probably know this already, but for all those start-ups to get in trouble with, e.g. the '556 JCI patent you mentioned, their product would need to comprise ALL of the features of an independent claim as it is called of that patent. Independent claims in the '556 are claims 1, 31 and 32... I copied claim 1 below (hence why google patent also highlights these 3 claims...).
I perfectly understand that despite the combination of features, sometimes these patents claim so trivial things it still is a problem for many... Just wanted to highlight that having one of these features is not an issue as such, the start-ups would really need to have all realized at once in their product..
I am aware it is confusing and complex topics, but just wanted to share some thoughts… My bet is more that JCI maybe spoke to these start-ups already and uses this as an negotiating tactic... Part of a complex IP strategy…

One thing I noticed in several responses is that there’s a huge silo between the lawyers and smart buildings nerds. The lawyers or those that don’t know JCI’s tech seemed to assume that the patents are legitimate IP:

“I know nothing of these companies but maybe there are some ex JCI employees (using JCI information) involved in the defendant companies that may have spurred JCI to sue?”

Whereas the smart buildings folks overwhelmingly feel that the patents are bullshit. I guess we’ll soon see!

Finally, there is a final category of responses I want to highlight: those of you that want to do something about this as a group. Some of you want to start a defense fund. We could even help the defendants by surfacing “prior art”. Some of you want to create a petition to boycott JCI’s products. Some of you want to grow the awareness beyond the Nexus community.

I’m with you. To help, I created a chat space in the Nexus Connect chatroom. Make sure you join the space so you get notifications whenever someone posts something new.

Talk to you over there!

—James

P.S. I almost forgot! Awards for the best funny reactions go to...

Drumroll please...

David Blanch, the Meme King:

Meme by David Blanch via LinkedIn

...and Ryan Droege with the Billy Madison quote:

Well done!

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