Video Doorbells Get Ugly: SkyBell Slams Ring in Patent Infringement Lawsuit
In patent-infringement case, SkyBell says Ring (Bot Home Automation) competes on hype, not innovation. Meanwhile, Ring says Nest is a copycat.
SkyBell Technologies, maker of smart video doorbells, has some harsh words for competitor Ring, Inc. In a patent-infringement lawsuit filed in the Central District of California, Southern Division, the plaintiff alleges Ring (Bot Home Automation) steals intellectual property – specifically three SkyBell patents – and competes on hype rather than technological prowess.
SkyBell, which bills itself as the “technological and intellectual market leader” in the video-doorbell category, has 71 issued U.S. patents (47 utility and 24 design) and more pending, plus “an extensive portfolio of foreign patents.”
In a suit filed Jan. 5, just days before CES 2018, the plaintiff boasts, “SkyBell believes it has more patents specifically relating to video doorbells than any competitor in the industry.”
Indeed, the manufacturer points to a recent study that names co-founder Joseph Scalisi as one of the most prolific inventors of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.
In the lawsuit, SkyBell lambastes Ring for its measly three patents, as if the USPTO declares which companies are first, best and most committed to R&D: “Indeed, although Ring may claim to be a leader in video doorbell technology, the numbers tell a different story. On information and believe [sic], Ring has obtained only 3 U.S. patents.”
The derision continues: “SkyBell routinely beats its industry competitors in head-to-head product reviews,” whereas Ring tends to “attract sales by advertising and marketing, without necessarily providing any technical innovation.”
And again: “Ring has not had nearly the same success with research and development. Ring has only three issued patents to its name, and its consistent approach to video doorbell technology is to copy from SkyBell.”
And more: SkyBell “launched an extremely successful crowdsourcing campaign,” raising approximately $600,000 on Indiegogo, while Ring predecessor DoorBot “unsuccessfully appeared on the television program Shark Tank, failing to secure any funding.”
The hits keep coming: “Ring has every right to attempt to compete with SkyBell via hype rather than innovation. What Ring may not do, however, is compete by theft. Ring has knowingly and repeatedly trampled upon SkyBell’s patent rights.”
It’s an interesting claim by SkyBell, given that Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff claims Silicon Valley is trampling all over his inventions.
When Nest announced its own Hello video doorbell in September 2017, Siminoff called the company a copycat.
“It’s embarrassing for a company that spends $800 million a year to be just copying me and be behind me the whole time,” he apparently told start-up ezine The Ambient in November. “Having one of the largest companies in the world directly copying products you have and your message is worrisome but I don’t think copying is the way to build something great and they can’t copy the future, they can only copy my past.”
Patents in SkyBell vs. Ring
OK, so SkyBell has established that it has 71 patents and Ring only has three. The plaintiff alleges Ring infringes on these three:
Doorbell communication systems and methods
#9055202 (June 2015)
Doorbells can detect visitors using a visitor detection system that includes a camera assembly, a motion detector assembly, or an infrared detector assembly. The visitor detection system can have a first sensor configured to detect a first indication suggestive of a visitor and a second sensor configured to detect a second indication suggestive of a visitor. A wall can separate the first sensor from the second sensor to divide the field of view of the visitor detection system such that the first sensor is configured to detect the first indication within a first portion of the field of view and the second sensor is configured to detect the second indication within a second portion of the field of view.
In SkyBell's words, the patent describes a "visitor detection system with multiple sensors to detect indications suggestive of a visitor with a wall separating the sensors to divide the field of view of the visitor detection system, such that different sensors are configured to detect the indications suggestive of a visitor in different portions of the field of view."
One example of infringement claimed by SkyBell is Ring’s visitor detection system that includes three infrared motion sensors, “each responsible for detecting indications suggestive of a visitor in three different portions of the field of view …. The Ring Doorbell’s visitor detection system has a wall that separates the three sensors to divide the field of view so that each sensor detects indications suggestive of a visitor in different portions of the field of view.”
Doorbell communication systems and methods
#9179109 (Nov. 2015)
A doorbell system can include a remote computing device and a doorbell that has a camera. The doorbell can enter a camera sleep mode wherein the camera is configured not to record. The remote computing device can be used to override a power setting of the doorbell to enable the doorbell to record a video. Then, the remote computing device can receive the video that was recorded by the doorbell.
The ‘109 patent describes how “an application on a remote computing device” (i.e., a mobile app) can be used to cause the doorbell camera to “exit its sleep mode and record a video that is sent to the remote computing device.”
SkyBell claims Ring’s “Live View” feature is one example of infringement because it “provides on-demand access to the doorbell camera to record a live video feed. This enables a user of the device to override or exit the sleep power setting of the doorbell, and to enter a recording mode ….”
Doorbell chime systems and methods
#9179107 (Nov. 2015)
Doorbell systems can include a doorbell, a chime, and a remote computing device. In some embodiments, the remote computing device can select a sound. A data file comprising information that represents the sound can be sent to the doorbell that is communicatively coupled to the remote computing device. The doorbell can send the data file to the chime that is communicatively coupled to the doorbell and remotely located with respect to the doorbell.
SkyBell explains that the patent is “generally directed towards configuring the remote doorbell chime sound by selecting the sound on a phone or tablet device and then sending a data file to the chime.”
Ring infringes with its Chime accessory, according to SkyBell: “[T]he Ring App allows for selection of a chime sound and then uploading a sound file to the remotely located Chime ….”
Ring allegedly knew of the existence of all three patents-in-suit, “while committing the foregoing infringing acts, thereby willfully, wantonly, and deliberately infringing …,” SkyBell claims. The plaintiff asks the court for treble damages.
The lawsuit against Ring appears to be SkyBell’s first patent-infringement case, although the company might have licensed its technology to other would-be infringers.
SkyBell’s only other pending lawsuit is against its former VP of finance Dawn Martin for allegedly stealing $180,000 from the company.
Ring’s Other Woes
Ring is already tied up in another lawsuit filed by ADT last year. The smart-doorbell company currently is enjoined from selling its new Ring Protect security and home automation system because the product uses technology allegedly stolen from ADT.
ADT says it spent some $36 million to co-develop the technology with now-defunct Zonoff. As Zonoff was closing its doors, ADT alleges, Zonoff chief Mike Harris gave the technology to Ring on a USB stick during a clandestine meeting in the Zonoff parking lot.
Ring's Siminoff maintains the technology rightfully belongs to his company through a legitimate $1.2 million development deal with Zonoff prior its demise. The judge so far disagrees, hence the preliminary injunction order. A final verdict in that case is pending.
Siminoff says, in so many words on a corporate blog, that ADT is just a bully who can't innovate as well as Ring.
It is understandable why the established old guard in the home security business might feel threatened – we can deliver products with superior capabilities at a fraction of the price. Instead of innovating and developing new products itself, one company is trying to bully and intimidate us. ADT – the largest security company in the world – is suing Ring and one of our team members in a desperate attempt to push us around.
Siminoff portrays Ring as the underdog in all of this, while simultaneously proclaiming, “I think we’re the largest independent IoT company in the world,” according to The Ambient.
Ring has shipped more than a million devices, and CE Pro revealed last year the company had revenues of $170 million in 2016.
And then there’s 'We're not Patent Trolls' EyeTalk365
Meanwhile, the “patent portfolio” company EyeTalk365 is suing or has sued several video-doorbell manufacturers, despite apparently never having marketed products itself.
The company claims to have licensed its technology to The Chamberlain Group, Inc.; HeathCo, LLC; and Ring (Bot Home Automation, Inc.) “without the need for wasteful litigation,” as EyeTalk explains.
The patent collector calls these agreements proof that “there is no doubt that EyeTalk’s patent portfolio includes pioneering inventions related to the entryway management industry.”
SkyBell is one defendant who wouldn’t capitulate to EyeTalk … at least not without litigation. EyeTalk has sued SkyBell a few times, with the cases closing pretty quickly – we don’t know to what end.
EyeTalk’s lawsuits against August Home, Alarmforce, CPI Security Systems, Live Watch Security, HooToo.com, Olive and Dove (now Remo+) and Bird Home Automation (DoorBird) also closed fairly quickly. EyeTalk vs. Zmodo is still pending.
EyeTalk explains some of its patent claims:
- Automatic sensing of individual approaching door -- The receiving device within the proximity of a door has a sensor to detect approaching individuals and cause an action to occur within the system. (Patent #7193644, claim 1)
- Communication between a mobile device and a device by a door -- Enables a person to be alerted on their mobile device that an individual is at their door and initiate an audio and video conversation via their mobile device with the person at their door regardless if they are at home, across town or away on vacation. You can even watch and listen to the individual before electing to respond live or play an automated message. (Patent #8144183, claim 1,2,9,10,11,12,15,16; Patent #8139098, claims 1,3,5,13,14,15,16,17)
- Pre-recorded messaging -- The device at the door can greet an individual with a pre-recorded message. Additionally the individual can be prompted to respond to a request for keypad input resulting in selected pre-recorded messages or selected individuals alerted on their mobile devices to respond. (Patent #8139098, claims 7,8,9,10,11,12)
- Allowing entrance by remote door unlocking and securing with locking -- Enables greeting a person on your phone while you are at home or away, visually confirming their identification and then allowing entrance by remotely unlocking the door. A great solution for confirming safe entrance for kids to home while you are away and securing the home once they are inside by locking the door remotely. (Patent #7193644, claim 15)
- Confidential streaming video from device at door area to a mobile device -- The device at the door can initiate an alert to a mobile device upon sensing an individual and begin streaming a confidential live video of the area by the door. Video stream can also be joined by connected devices for larger area coverage. (Patent #8139098, claim 1,5)
- Alert wirelessly in the event land line or power is interrupted -- Enables a person to be alerted on their mobile device home or facility has lost land lines or power supplied from utility companies. (Patent #7193644, claim 24)
- Keypad, voice and biometric identification for engaging system -- The device at the door can initiate various operations following identification via keypad input, voice prompt, or fingerprint or retina biometrics. Once an individual is id, remote individuals may be wirelessly alerted, specific system messaging may be played and door unlocking can result. (Patent #7193644, claim 1; Patent #8144184, claim 17)
- Recording and archiving area for later viewing -- The system can be set to record area video and audio continuously or after sensing an individual and then archive it on various media for later viewing. (Patent #8139098, claims 2,4,5)
- Multiple devices can be employed within a system -- Enables solutions that can alert a single user on thier mobile device or multiple individuals simultaneously. Which individuals are alerted on their mobile systems can be determined via keypad, voice prompt or biometric identification. (#8164614, claims 1,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,20)
- Primary device can be wireless, battery powered and secured -- Enables the primary device to be quickly located virtually anywhere. Because device can transmit wirelessly, be battery powered and also has a locking mechanism that enables it to be secured in place it can be used in a numerous places where without the difficulty of typical installation issues. (Patent #8154581, claims 13,14)
- Primary device can actuate video camera and possess zoom capabilities -- The primary device's camera can possess additional capabilities such as actuation for pan of viewing area from remote wireless phone or tablet. System can also be zoom enabled allowing for remote user to zoom in on area being viewed. (Patent #8139098, claim 18,19)
- A video screen can be implemented for communication and information -- The primary device located near a door may possess a video screen that enables 2 way audio video communication between the participants. Additionally the video screen can be used for informational and on-site marketing videos and disclosures. Such videos can prompt user for action resulting in an alert to a remote user and then both parties being engaged in a live 2-way audio video conversation. (Patent #8144183, claims 1,2,9,10,11,12,15,16; Patent#8154581, claim 11)
EyeTalk also has sued over these later patents (all related to each other) that describe the viewing of a person at the front door vian an app: 9432638; 9635323; 9485478; 9516284.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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