United States: IoT Lighting Industry Giants Hit With Patent Infringement Suit

Last Updated: October 1 2019
Article by Benjamin M. Patton

TriDiNetworks, an Israel based cloud management platform for M2M (machine-to-machine) and IoT networks, recently filed three lawsuits against industry leaders in IoT technology for alleged willful patent infringement. Two of the targets, STMicroelectronics (STM) and NXP Semiconductors (NXP), are pioneers in providing high-performance semiconductor technology worldwide. Their technologies cover a variety of applications and include creating sensors, controllers, and other connectivity devices for IoT solutions. The third target, Signify, formerly known as Philips Lighting, is one of the preeminent companies invested in connected lighting solutions. Signify is a top player in the IoT lighting industry and possesses a strong patent portfolio through years of R&D and strategic IP acquisitions in the field of lighting, including IoT connected lighting solutions.

Founded in 2007, TriDiNetworks' website claims that the company's core technology relates to wireless lighting control systems for automatic setup of wireless and wired control networks. The IP backbone of TriDiNetworks' business relies on three granted patents including a single U.S. patent related to universal wireless setup technology as taught in U.S. Patent 8,437,276. In general, the patent discloses technology that allows workers with basic skills to set up complex control networks, without the need for special tools, training, or documentation through the wireless commissioning of devices.

These lawsuits reflect the increasing level of IoT patent litigation activity. In a trio of complaints filed on June 7, 2019 in the U.S. District Court of Delaware, TriDiNetworks asserted its single U.S. patent against STM, NXP, and Signify. TriDiNetworks alleges direct, willful infringement, induced infringement, and contributory infringement against each defendant. Specifically, TriDiNetworks points to Signify's wireless programming technology for LED drivers as infringing its patent. One complaint also calls out STM's Open Development Environment that uses STM chips and components to deploy sensors and motor control devices connected to cloud systems such as Microsoft's Azure cloud or Amazon Web Services. Further, TriDiNetworks accuses NXP of selling infringing NFC tags and associated controllers designed for "Smart Home" products and related development kits.

While most companies alleging patent infringement select their strongest contender(s) from a portfolio of patents, TriDiNetworks' patent portfolio is nearly non-existent. The company currently has one U.S. granted patent and holds two other patents – one in Europe and one in China. The Chinese patent office granted TriDiNetworks' most recent patent in April 2014. Furthermore, the company's newest product release came four years ago and broadly related to an indoor and outdoor LED light and energy management system implemented on an IoT platform for Smart City services. "Light Automation," as referred to on TriDiNetworks website, consolidates design, installation, maintenance and management functions in one cloud managed system. Specifically, TriDiNetworks touts its ability to allow electricians to program unpowered wireless modules via NFC from smartphones loaded with a system-generated installation map and parameters such as security data and location information to reduce installation costs.

Despite its miniscule patent portfolio, TriDiNetworks must either believe it's an innovator in the IoT field or is using the lawsuits as a bargaining tool to bring the defendants to the negotiation table. In either case, TriDiNetworks made a bold move by taking on three industry giants at once. While insufficient financial information is publicly available for TriDiNetworks, given they were initially funded as startup back in 2008 and haven't released a new product in four years, the company may be cash-strapped and looking to make a final run at keeping the company afloat. By filing lawsuits against three industry titans, one could speculate that TriDiNetworks is fighting for survival.

Even though the three suits are still in their early days and no answers have been filed, expect the three defendants to shine light on TriDiNetworks' apparent attempt to squeeze money out of the industry leaders. None of the defendants are strangers to patent infringement suits, and all have been on both the offensive and defensive sides of high stakes patent litigation. Given the sophistication of the three defendants, it's likely they won't cave easily. In fact, these companies may draw a hard line in the sand to warn other companies or patent trolls looking to monetize IoT patents that they won't tolerate suits they perceive as frivolous or attempts to gain quick settlements. Still, TriDiNetworks is all-in on its only U.S. patent and this may be its last chance to reap some benefit from its initial startup investments. As litigation progresses, it will be intriguing to see how far TriDiNetworks is willing to go with one patent in its arsenal.

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