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I wrote a piece about my “shark tank” advice for Mason Lawlor and his smart home crowdfunding campaign.  

It’s a new NextMarket podcast. Take a listen.

If you want to get read or hear about the big news in smart home each week, subscribe to my newsletter. Here is the three big stories for this week over at Technology.FM.

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Gavel picture connoting important legal news

Interesting and important piece of news in the smart home services space: Icontrol, the leading smart home managed service platform company, has filed patent infringement lawsuits against Zonoff and SecureNet Technologies. 

The company is seeking stop the sale of Zonoff (which would include Staples Connect products that are powered by Zonoff) and SecureNet products they claim violate the patents. The company has named 9 patents , 4 of which both companies violate, 2 of which Zonoff alone violates, and 3 which SecureNet violates.  Icontrol, which was fairly early to the Internet-based smart home services market, claims to have 30 patents overall.

What’s interesting is the choice of these two companies and not others.  When you look at the patents, some of them look fairly broad and could apply to others. 

For example, Icontrol is claiming Zonoff and SecureNet violate patent # 8,335,842, which is described as follows (emphasis mine): 

Some embodiments of a method for premises management networking include monitoring premises management devices connected to a gateway at a premises; controlling premises management devices connected to the gateway at the premises; receiving, at the premises, an uplink-initiation signal associated with a network operations center server; and in response to the uplink-initiation signal, initiating, from the gateway at the premises, communications between the gateway and the network operations center server; and communicating, during the communications between the gateway and the network operations center server, information associated with the premises management devices

So one could argue (and by “one” I mean Icontrol) anyone doing gateway based premises monitoring with a NOC (basically this means cloud-based management/monitoring of a smart home using a gateway) is basically in violation of this patent.

And there are others. Patent # 6,624,750 is for a “network of wireless smoke detectors” which could possibly be used to target any number of companies likes Honeywell, Nest, etc. Another is Patent # 8,612,591 which covers “Security system with networked touchscreen” technology which, I assume, could be used to target 2Gig and others. 

In all, it looks like Icontrol has a fairly broad set of patents in the space, which is not surprising given that they were one of the first modern smart home service platforms. What’s interesting is the “why now” and the “who”.

The ‘why now’ question might be answered by first addressing the ‘who’. I have to wonder if Icontrol is using litigation as a way to possibly address a competitive threat that they are facing from the likes of Zonoff in their core business, which is selling smart home managed services platform to service providers.

While I don’t have any confirmation that Zonoff or SecureNet is chasing Icontrol’s current customers in the cable, telco or security side, I think it’s pretty likely.  Sure, it might be a bit of a pain, but there’s no reason why a Comcast or Time Warner couldn’t migrate over time to use Zonoff’s technology as the cloud-management platform for its smart home and security services.

So if Icontrol sees either company as a current or future threat to existing business, it makes sense that they would look to assert their patents.  Still, I have to wonder if Zonoff and SecureNet are the first in the line of many, or just a warning shot fired over the bow of others who Icontrol sees as a competitive threat.  No doubt companies such as Greenwave, Wink and others have to be looking pretty closely at the patents named in this action. In general, this move has to serve as a fairly ominous wake up call for anyone currently selling or planning to sell connected home services and related technology. 

I won’t speculate at this point about what would happen to either Zonoff or SecureNet’s business if Icontrol prevails since it’s so early, but needless to say it would be fairly disastrous if the court decides in their favor and a settlement couldn’t be reached.  

Just finished a flash-report on the Apple Watch for Gigaom, and maybe the most interesting results for me were the ones on market hurdles.

Moreso than price, our respondents (which were, admittedly, not representative of the overall population but instead a fairly tech-savvy readship with lots of Apple devotees) felt that the fact the Apple Watch essentially required an iPhone to really work would be the biggest hurdle for market acceptance.

See chart below:

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This pretty much confirms what a lot of folks have said, me included

Don’t get me wrong: I think the Apple Watch will be the most successful smartwatch in terms of sales almost immediately, and I also fully understand why Apple did this. I would to.

But it’s also important to understand that they could probably sell a heckuva lot more if the Apple Watch were not essentially a iPhone ‘parasite’ which required another life form to keep it alive. 

Interesting news out of the white-goods world today: Electrolux is buying GE Appliances for $3.3 billion.

Now normally the sale of a staid appliance business wouldn’t be all that interesting in the tech world, but what makes this interesting to me is the GE has been working closely with innovation-lab Quirky to create some interesting crowdsourced appliances.

Now there was some speculation that Quirky, using capital from the likes of Blackstone Group, was also bidding on the business, but apparently they weren’t interested at the price Electrolux paid. 

Probably for the best. Electrolux is the one of the biggest appliance manufacturers in the world (their 2012 appliance revenue was about $16 billion), and the company is in a market share battle with the likes of Whirlpool and Haier, but still, the question has to be asked: Now with GE in the hands of Electrolux, what will become of the GE/Quirky partnership?

My guess is it won’t be the same, but it won’t end.  GE’s appliance business includes the much-hyped smart air conditioner, as well as pretty much any other home appliance category you can think of. Clearly now those products they were working on now come under Electrolux’s roof.

But I also think the GE/Quirky partnership, while obviously tied to appliances, is broader. Quirky just posted an article about GE’s innovation lab and work being done on surgeon-robotics.  Quirky itself looks beyond just smart home appliances (though that is a big focus).

And beyond GE, it’s possible that the Quirky partnership will continue with the GE division as its folded into Electrolux.  Electrolux is working on smart home efforts itself, and I’m sure they’ll be happy to extend this partnership (and I’m sure Quirky is happy to do so as well).

Still, it will be interesting to watch what happens next.  The GE/Quirky partnership has been a big part of Quirky’s claim to fame, and now we’ll have to see what becomes of it.

I talk to Jason Hirschhorn about helping shepherd MTV into the Internet era, running Sling and Myspace and turning REDEF from hobby to company.

In case you’re wondering what happened this week in the smart home, all you need to do is check out my write up here. You can also listen to me talk about it as well with Aaron Cohen. 

Two ways to consume!

When asked about smart home, some in the mainstream tech press will point to a couple DIY smart home hub companies as being representative of the entire market.

Now while Smart Things, Wink and Revolv are interesting companies, their hubs are not what’s interesting about them and they’d probably be the first to tell you that.

That’s because consumers don’t know, by and large, what a hub is, and they never will. I’ve written this before, and will write it again: the hub is a stopgap, and over time the main capability of the hub gets subsumed into other products. 

What are the capabilities of the hub? Basically to act as the central router and control point, and often as a bridge to the Internet (usually via a home router). They have smart home radios in them, which is important, because most installed routers don’t,. However that will likely change. 

Not only that, you also have companies like Nest and Belkin (with WeMo) that are sidestepping hubs altogether, either through delivering a popular end-point category like a thermostat (Nest) with trojan-horse controller capabilities or just using Wi-Fi and a decentralized smart home network approach (like WeMo).

Knowing all this, the news today that Revolv’s sales at retail have been disappointing doesn’t surprise me.  Word is other smart home hubs have been slow to move, even at lower price points, all the while known product categories that consumers can understand like network cameras, smart locks and thermostats are moving briskly. 

So bottom line, it’s time to start moving the “state of ” smart home conversation away from hubs and towards other categories, because that’s where the heat is folks.

Update: Revolv contacted me (and Julie, who wrote the original story about their move into the CEDIA market) and said they never said their retail sales were “disappointing”.  I should note that I have heard from other sources that hubs (not Revolv’s in particular) are not moving particularly fast at retail, so I do stand behind the original thrust of this post).