thought experiment – if you were nest what might you patent?

No pun intended, but thermostats do not traditionally fall into the cool category. Then there was Nest.

Despite not having any buttons the nest thermostat seems to push all the right ones;  slick stripped down industrial design, a nod to nostalgia for the round analogue thermostats of days gone by, and recognition of the annoyances of the poorly thought out menus and programming sequences one often finds in traditional programmable household thermostats.  To top it off, if there were not already enough things to catch your attention, the projected possible energy savings are impressive.

With its bent on minimalist industrial design it is no surprise nest’s founders include Apple alumni.  With such pedigree it would also not be a surprise if there is significant technological innovation below this minimalist skin.  But is there patentable subject matter here? A few quick assignee and inventor searches of the USPTO databases did not find any published documents.  Not to worry.  It is still rather early since the systems and methods were likely scoped out.  In terms of this article this is a good thing as one now has the freedom to conduct a thought experiment considering where inventive material might be found.  In doing this experiment it is noted that I am not frequent with any such filings or the art around thermostats.

In terms of hardware there is likely a micro-controller with embedded memory for code, maybe some stand-alone memory such as BBSRAM, the sensors and communications integrated circuits.  At first glance this seems to be a pretty standard kit for data collection and control.  While the broadest combination of these parts might not present much novelty, there might be some in a particular configuration of parts or systems for this application.

What about software or methods of operation?  Similar to the old analogue thermostats the nest thermostat takes a minimum of inputs.  The nest website suggests there are two.  A heat to temperature  and a cool to temperature.  Once these are entered the thermostat learns, which is where it becomes interesting.  One might envision “A System and Method for Controlling Temperature” incorporating the two temperature settings and data collected during operation thereof.  Going a bit further one can hypothesize steps of “collecting light level data”, “collecting motion data”, “determining current time”, “recalling a heat to temperature” and maybe a decision loop “determining if the light level data is below the average light level during a first time interval”, and “if yes and time is after a first night time then drop the temperature 10 degrees below the heat to temperature” … or something like that.

Time will tell what, if any, patent applications have been filed.  Whether nest envisions itself as a stand alone company with possibly a family of like minded controllers or as an IP portfolio for an established player in the field, patents can only be seen as essential to protect any novelty residing behind that round display.