If I make something simple (like a spark core powered lamp or something) wouldn’t a patent likely exist for that? And if there’s a patent for something like that am I screwed as far as building my own and selling it?
@mnewport patents are tricky business, and we could fill a book with all the things that one should or should not do when it comes to IP. However, a few good things to keep in mind that should hopefully make you feel a little better:
The first patents in home automation happened in 1982 with the invention of the X10 home automation system. Anything that was patented between 1982 and the early '90s is now in the public domain (patents only last 17-20 years). So you can probably assume all of the basic stuff (like controlling a lamp over the internet) is in the public domain, and therefore freely available.
That said, there are patents everywhere, and for everything. But in an industry like home automation that’s been around for a while, the more recent patents (i.e. the ones that are still in effect) tend to be narrower, so it’s a little harder to trip over them accidentally. And many of them are crap patents anyway, and wouldn’t hold up in court.
In general, it’s not worth it for someone to litigate based on their patent portfolio unless they’re scared of you or you’re making boatloads of money. If either of these things is true, then you’re probably in a decent position to defend yourself. Big companies don’t come after the little guys for no reason at all; it’s too expensive.
So in conclusion: don’t worry too much about patents; it’s not worth the trouble.
@zach Thanks for the quick reply! That makes sense. All of that is way out of my bailiwick, but I didn’t want to make a smartphone app and have it all be a waste of time, so it’s good to know. Boatloads of money would be a nice problem to have!