Icontrol Beats Alarm.com in Key Patent Claims for Remote Security & Home Automation
USPTO invalidates key claims in Alarm.com (ALRM) patent over mobile devices in a security and home automation ecosystem. Icontrol awarded new patent for integrating smart home systems with SHaaS (smart home as a service) platforms, central monitoring stations and mobile devices.
Icontrol Networks, which claims to have the “most widely-distributed interactive security and home automation platform in the industry,” has handed arch-rival Alarm.com (Nasdaq: ALRM) a major defeat in patent land. The USPTO invalidated several key claims in Alarm.com’s patent No. 8,350,694 (‘694), issued January 8, 2013 (filed in 2010), concerning the role of mobile phones in a remotely managed smart-home ecosystem – claims that could have universal implications for remote home monitoring and management.
The patent office awarded Icontrol priority to those canceled claims, which had been covered in Icontrol patents filed in 2005 and 2007. Icontrol says its priority to this subject matter was uncontested by Alarm.com.
As a result of the judgment, the patent office awarded a new patent today, “Integrated interface for mobile device” (No. 9,141,276, filed in 2011) to Icontrol, featuring claims to the inventions nullified in ‘694.
Icontrol’s new patent (‘276) covers methods and systems for interacting and synchronizing with home security and automation systems using mobile applications.
It also represents fundamental art relating to the use of a mobile application to control and present information from connected devices.
One major claim that Alarm.com does maintain in ‘694 is a service commonly known as “geolocation,” i.e., using the phone’s location to cause a smart-home system to take actions on its own, for example, setting back a thermostat when users are 10 miles from home.
That claim might face challenges from Allure, which filed patents in 2010 (awarded in 2013) for geolocation or geo-fencing services used for energy management, i.e., ramp up the thermostat when a user is on the way home. Allure filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Honeywell earlier this year for its Lyric Thermostat, which employs geo-location services.
However, Alarm.com did lose its claim to employ geo-location services within the premises. So, for example, if the mobile device is deemed to be in short range (perhaps Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) vis-à-vis the local controller, then the units will sync locally. If not, then the units will sync over cellular via the SHaaS.
Also with regard to ‘694, Alarm.com maintains claims on multi-user engagement, defining how automation and security services are prioritized, based on the location and needs of each user.
Understanding ‘694 Patent and Claims
Alarm.com’s 2013 patent, “Monitoring system to monitor a property with a mobile device with a monitoring application,” defines how a mobile device can become a fundamental element of a security and home automation system.
A smart phone with a dedicated app can be used as a glorified keypad for a traditional security/automation system, enabling the user to (according to the claim) check real-time status of the system and sensors, arm/disarm the system, turn lights on/off, look in on live video of security cameras, review history of system events, review saved video clips, monitor/change thermostat settings, and perform other features of a traditional security keypad in a home security system.
At the same time, the smart-home system can exploit standard features of a cell phone outside of the smart-home app. For example, the system can exploit a cell phone’s ability to … make phone calls. It can also take advantage of a phone’s native audio (speaker and mic), camera, text messaging, calendars, phone books, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (not named specifically in ‘694) and Web browsing.
Integrating these native phone features into a remote smart-home service comprised key claims of the Alarm.com’s patent, many of which were validated by the recent judgment.
Here is Claim 1 of ‘694, upon which most other claims are based:
1. A system for monitoring a property, the system comprising: a monitoring system that is configured to monitor a property and includes one or more sensors that are installed at the property and that are configured to sense attributes of the property; a native mobile device monitoring application loaded onto a mobile device that is provided separately from the monitoring system by a company that is different than a company that provides the monitoring system, the native mobile device monitoring application including instructions that, when executed by the mobile device, cause the mobile device to perform operations comprising: performing a synchronization process to synchronize the native mobile device monitoring application with the monitoring system that is configured to monitor the property; based on the synchronization, receiving one or more data communications descriptive of sensor events detected by the monitoring system at the property; causing display, on a display device of the mobile device, of a status interface area that includes status information related to the monitoring system based on the received one or more data communications; causing display, on the display device of the mobile device, of a control interface area that enables a user to provide user input to control the monitoring system; receiving user input defining a control operation for the monitoring system based on the control interface area; and based on the received user input and the synchronization, sending one or more control communications that cause the monitoring system to perform the control operation defined by the received user input.
As written, this claim was nullified by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).
Besides the broad claim of using a smart device to monitor and interact with a security and home automation system, some of the ‘694 claims canceled by the patent office include:
- Interface that provides information on system status, and allows input for initiating events.
- Pop-up notifications that can interrupt currently paying media.
- Pop-ups may include input buttons, allowing users to trigger an alarm/automation system to take certain actions such as canceling a false alarm, looking in on video, or unlocking a door.
- If applicable, media would resume after inputs are activated, “automatically, without human intervention … on the mobile device”
Alarm.com Wins Geo, Some App Integrations
Patent ‘694 includes claims for “tracking one or more characteristics of the mobile device” and “determining whether to perform an operation” related to the tracked characteristics.”
This broad claim (#7) was invalidated by the USPTO, but that doesn’t seem to matter much since Alarm.com wins claim to certain important characteristics that can be tracked and acted upon, namely device location (geo-location) and battery level.
In addition, Alarm.com scored some important wins on integrating smart-home apps with unrelated apps on a mobile device. While Alarm.com lost on the general claim (#13 below), it prevailed on some of the specifics.
13. The system of claim 1, the native mobile device monitoring application further includes instructions that, when executed by the mobile device, cause the mobile device to perform operations comprising: detecting an event related to the monitoring system; determining an operation needed to handle the detected event; and leveraging functionality, that is separate from the native mobile device monitoring application, of the mobile device in performing the determined operation.
As to canceled claim #13, Alarm.com does prevail on specific applications named in ‘694, allowing a smart-home app to exploit these third-party applications (with examples of how they might be implemented)
- Two-way voice (for example, opening up a dialog between the monitoring station and the user)
- Address book (notifying nearby friends of alarm event)
- Calendar (reminding users to set alarm during “vacation”)
- Internet browser (alerting user to crimes in the area, prompting user to arm the security system)
- Messaging app (texting emergency contacts)
- Device speaker (audibles for alarm events)
- Camera (capturing images of a crime in progress and automatically dispatching to monitoring station)
Does it Matter?
Icontrol and Alarm.com went back and forth on patent claims for years, but settled the claims in cross-licensing agreements in 2014.
Presumably, with the latest judgment, Icontrol would have the right to sue other companies for patent infringement on the newly canceled claims in ‘694. At press time, Icontrol was not available for comment.
ALRM is down 3.3% today to $12.95.
The Fine Print
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has issued a Judgment cancelling claims 1-7, 10, 13, 21-27, 30, 33, 41-47, 50, and 53 of U.S. Patent No. 8,350,694 (“the ‘694 patent”), and awarding to Icontrol priority to the subject matter covered by the cancelled claims. As a result of this Judgment, the USPTO has issued to Icontrol new U.S. Patent No. 9,141,276, with claims to the invention covered by the canceled claims of the ‘694 patent. This ruling validates Icontrol’s 2005 and 2007 claims that the technologies described in Patent No. 8,350,694 awarded to a competitor were in fact invented by Icontrol.
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Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at email@example.com
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