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Lutron Sues Leviton Over RF Lighting Controls

What does that mean for Z-Wave, Zigbee, Insteon and companies who use them?

Lutron is suing Leviton for infringing on patents that have to do with wall-box dimmers, RF transceivers in a junction box, and lighting control with two-way status/feedback.

The lawsuit is no surprise, really. It was only a matter of time. Apparently, that time was when Leviton finally shipped its two-way Vizia RF lighting control system based on the Z-Wave mesh-networking wireless protocol.

The alleged infringement would also apply to Monster Cable, which is OEMing the products for its IlluminEssence line of lighting controls.

Two-way Z-Wave lighting controls have been delayed for quite awhile; some have speculated that a potential lawsuit was the reason for the delay.

Several months ago, I asked many of the purveyors of two-way RF lighting controls if they feared a Lutron patent -- it's no secret that Lutron has some very strong patent protection in lighting controls.

One of the patents in particular I've been told is pretty rock solid. Number (5,982,103) refers to an RF transmitter and/or receiver sharing the same wallbox as a switch or dimmer (See links and illustrations of all patents below). Lutron first employed such technology in its Radio Ra lighting controls and later HomeWorks Interactive Wireless. From what I recall, it was the first to deploy such a technology.

Another patent, number 5,905,442 has to do with two-way controls, where the status of certain devices on the network can be transmitted to the controlling device, and the controllers can respond to those status reports.

Patent No. 5,637,930 refers to wall-box dimmers that have both a dimming device and switch for controlling a load. For example, in the case of a rotary dimmer, depressing the wheel turns the load on and off; turning the wheel dims the load. Another case would be a paddle-type switch (for on/off) that has a slider for dimming the load.

Still another patent (5,248,919) -- if I'm reading it correctly, and I'm sure Lutron lawyers will correct me if I'm wrong -- deals with dimmers and switches sharing the same wallbox, and delivering many lighting-control features -- like setting and implementing different fade rates, returning to the previous dim state from the off position, and allowing different effects if the dimmer is pressed twice quickly (like brighten to full intensity) or held for a period of time (usually fading to off over a fairly long period of time.)

The last patent mentioned (4,797,599) seems to deal with phase-coupling technology for enhancing powerline controls, but for some reason is mentioned only cursorily in the Lutron press release. Lutron currently does not make powerline-based control systems, whereas such technology is Leviton's claim to fame.

Other Manufacturers Vulnerable?

If the lighting-control patents hold, it appears many manufacturers of RF lighting controls could be in trouble; however, none has the deep pockets that Leviton has. The manufacturer of electronic and electrical devices probably has revenues in the 100s of millions of dollars (ditto for Lutron). My guess is they have some pretty good lawyers; obviously they knew about Lutron's patents. They must be fairly certain they're not infringing.

Vantage/Legrand, I've been told, settled with Lutron awhile ago for the company's RadioLink RF lighting controls.

Few other RF lighting controls have actually shipped.

Some one-way Z-Wave lighting controls have been shipping for awhile, but two-way products only began shipping in 2005, when Control4 introduced products based on Zigbee, which competes with the Z-Wave technology utilized by Leviton.

Watt Stopper/Legrand has been shipping its Miro RF ligthing control product for quite some time, based on its proprietary RF technology.

Centralite and Crestron began shipping Zigbee-based lighting controls last year.

Control4 would seem vulnerable -- I believe they've shipped more than 100,000 Zigbee products -- but, Control4 is different than the others. The company invented a technique whereby the RF transmitter/receiver is actually in the paddle of the dimmer -- outside of the wallbox, not inside it as Lutron has patented.

Who knows about the other patents, though.

UPDATE: In fact, Lutron filed a patent-infringement case against Control4 in May 2006. See below for more Lutron cases.

If Lutron prevails over Leviton and Monster, what would that mean to Z-Wave, Zigbee and the companies who use them?

Z-Wave developer Zensys leans pretty heavily on lighting control to drive Z-Wave sales. They might be nervous.

It could also hurt SmartLabs, whose Insteon RF technology is similar to both Z-Wave and Zigbee, and which also has lighting control as a linchpin of its strategy.

Zigbee has a strong following in the industrial/commercial markets so would not be hit quite as hard.

I have yet to talk to any parties in the lawsuit, but will keep readers posted as information comes in.


Genlyte Thomas Group, LLC v. Lutron Electronics Co., Inc., Civil Action No. 3:02-CV-0601-K in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division

Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. v. Control4 Corporation, Civil Action No. 2:06-CV-00401 in the United States District Court, District of Utah

Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. v. Genlyte Thomas Group, LLC, Civil Action No. 04-CV-0864 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. v. Leviton Manufacturing Co., Inc., Civil Action No. 05-799-BMS in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

It seems Lutron had a patent infringement case filed against it as well.

Genlyte (Lightolier) had alleged that eight of Lutron's Grafik Eye products infringed a Genlyte patent that was issued in 1988.

That patent (4,792,731), involved three inventions: a multiroom controller, an individual light control and a lighting control system.

According to a Lutron attorney on the case, Lutron prevailed in a $280 million case with a three-week jury trial. The jury found no infringement and in fact found the Genlyte patent to be invalid.

From the Lutron Press Release re: Leviton

Leviton Manufacturing Company with the International Trade Commission and in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Lutron's court filings allege that Leviton has infringed Lutron patents covering a wide spectrum of proprietary Lutron lighting control and wireless technology and has sold products made to look like Lutron's popular Maestro dimmers.

The lighting control products accused of infringement include certain Vizia and Acenti dimmers made by Leviton, as well as the IlluminEssence dimmer and switch which are made exclusively by Leviton for Monster Central Control Systems.

The press release continues:

Lutron's federal court complaint requests that Leviton be enjoined from further infringement of the same four patents listed above and that Leviton be ordered to pay damages for willful infringement of those patents...

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Article Topics

News · Product News · Lighting · Legal · Legal · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

1 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by wilson zhu  on  08/05  at  05:16 PM

please tell me results about it.

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