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Lutron Sues Crestron, 3 Dealers for Patent Infringement on Lighting Controls

Lutron claims Crestron's ZigBee-based infiNET products and other lighting controls infringe on three patents; will Crestron settle as did Cooper, Leviton, Vantage and Control4?


Julie Jacobson · August 18, 2009

Patent: Multizone, Multi-load Wall Box Dimming

The ‘200 patent, according to Lutron, describes “the technology necessary to control a virtually unlimited number of lighting zones with a single wall-mounted control.”

That patent is embodied in the Grafik Eye 4100, ideal for controlling lights in very large single rooms. The original Grafik Eye 3000 is limited because all of the dimming circuitry is built into a standard multi-gang wall box. The 4100, on the other hand, allows the expansion to a “virtually unlimited” number of zones because the product is wired to a remote dimming panel that contains the dimming circuitry for each zone.

Lutron claims that Crestron’s “infringement of the ‘200 patent, and its copying of Lutron’s innovative GRAFIK EYE product, evidences a willful, reckless, and deliberate disregard of Lutron’s patent rights.”

Suggesting that the defendants’ infringement is “deliberate and intentional,” Lutron points to (among other things) the industrial design of its Grafik Eye 4116 (bottom) and Crestron’s iLux CLS-C6 (top).

image

Lutron holds that Crestron’s conduct was “willful” and that it is therefore entitled to treble damages, as determined at trial.

The company also is asking to permanently enjoin the defendants and its agents – including distributors, importers and dealers – from making, using or selling any of the products that allegedly infringe on Lutron’s patents.

Lutron vs. Crestron

The harshly worded Lutron charges seem especially vitriolic compared to the language in previous suits.

The fierce competition between Lutron and Crestron is widely acknowledged in the CE Pro community, and has escalated since 2004, when Crestron began extensive product development in hardwired, and then wireless lighting controls.

According to the 2009 CE Pro Brand Analysis survey, 33% of dealers call Lutron their most-used lighting-control brand, compared to 14% for Leviton and 10% for Crestron. But Crestron’s market share has grown from 0% in 2005 and 7% in 2006.

Among the CE Pro Top 100 list (pdf) of high-revenue integrators, 69% say they use at least some Lutron products for lighting control and Crestron is No. 2 with 50% (see the CE Pro 100 brand analysis pdf).

So what will become of the lawsuit against Crestron?

Will the two competitors be able to settle out of court? If so, what might happen to the price of Crestron lighting control products, especially the new low-end products in the highly anticipated Prodigy line?

After Control4 agreed to pay licensing fees and royalties to Lutron, the company increased the price of its wireless dimmers 30 percent to about $130. Currently, Crestron is planning to retail its Prodigy wireless dimmers for the same price.

And ... who might Lutron take on next? Obviously there are many other companies out there that sell two-way wireless RF lighting controls, including a slew of them that employ ZigBee and Z-Wave technology.

Whatever happens in the Crestron case, we hope it can be settled amicably so dealers can get on with their business.

Why Sue the Three Dealers?

The claim against Crestron is possibly the first from Lutron to include installers of (potentially) infringing products. The dealers named in the suit are:

Isn’t it strange that Lutron decided to sue three poor little dealers this time around, and not just the manufacturer? That seems a little mean.

And why three dealers in Utah, where the lawsuit was filed?

Could it be that Lutron felt the favor of the Utah legal system when the company went against Utah-based Control4 and Vantage? Naturally, Lutron couldn’t sue Crestron in Utah without a reason. Are these unfortunate dealers the reason?



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  About the Author

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. Email Julie at jjacobson@ehpub.com

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