TALKIN’ SMACK: THE SKYBELL V. RING COMPLAINT

In a complaint that reads more like a press release before an UFC fight than a legal document, SkyBell technologies sued Ring, Inc. for patent infringement.  SkyBell boasts of being the “technological and intellectual market leader” in the smart doorbell space with 71 issued U.S. patents as compared to Ring with only 3 U.S. patents.  Ring, the complaint claims, “attempt[s] to compete with SkyBell via hype rather than innovation.”  After reading the complaint, I was excited explore the divergent patent strategies SkyBell describes, and how “hype” rather than patenting translates into profitability.  The problem is SkyBell’s claims of patent dominance appear to be more about talkin’ smack than pleading fact.

Starting with the basic facts, SkyBell appears to have inflated the number issued patents it has produced.  According to my research, SkyBell has a total of 65 issued U.S. Patents, and even including predecessor iDoorCam, only 65 issued patents.  I can’t easily figure out where they came up with 71 issued patents.  However, SkyBell may have included licensed, predecessor, or recently allowed patents in their patent count that I’m not aware of, so 71 issued patents may be correct. 

On the other hand, the patent count for Ring appears to be dramatically incorrect.  Much of Rings innovation is assigned to its predecessor, BOT Home Automation (BOT Home).  As SkyBell states in the complaint, Ring launched its doorbell as DoorBot, a product of BOT Home), which was not funded by the investors on Shark Tank.  A search for issued patents assigned to Ring or BOT Home results in 20 issued U.S. Patents.  Granted, 20 is less than 65, but 20 is much greater (and less eye catching) than 3.  Notably, BOT Home references have been cited 48 times during prosecution of SkyBell patents, suggesting that SkyBell must have been aware of the BOT Home portion of Ring’s portfolio.  Based on this information, I’d say SkyBell’s claims of patent dominance in the complaint are factually unsupported and misleading. 

It is hard to say which company is the “technological and intellectual market leader” in the video doorbell space.  True, SkyBell filed more patents than Ring/BOT Home since these companies were founded in 2013.  Figure 1 shows initial patent filings per year for SkyBell and Ring/BOT Home. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

Looking a bit more deeply, the discrepancy in filing rates is likely a difference in patent strategy rather than either SkyBell or Ring/BOT Home being more innovative.  The radar map in Figure 2 and the cell map in Figure 3 compare the SkyBell and Ring/BOT Home’s patent strategy

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3

SkyBell tends to file more patent applications covering broader swaths of technology, whereas Ring/BOT Home appears to be focused more specifically on patenting innovation relating to their doorbells.  For example, Ring/BOT Home claims “doorbell” in 9 of its 20 patents (45%) compared to SkyBell claiming “doorbell” in 2 of 65 patents (3%).  Despite allegedly having 71 issued patents, the complaint only identifies 3 patents that are allegedly infringed.  To my mind, this fact alone mitigates the relevancy of SkyBell’s boasting of issuing 71 patents.  Either way, it’s hard to say, which company is the “technological and intellectual market leader” based on portfolio size.

Where it counts (i.e. making money), Ring is clearly winning.  According to Crunchbase, Ring has raised $209M to date.  Skybell, in contrast, has only raised $750,000.  Ring has launched four iterations of its video doorbell, Ring, Ring 2, Ring Pro, and Ring Elite.  They have also launched a line of security cameras, a security system, solar panel charging accessories, and various other products related to home security, and Ring’s purchase of Mr. Beam will likely generate additional spotlight related products.  SkyBell on the other hand has one product, the SkyBell video doorbell… and a kit for installing it.  In the community, Ring has developed “Ring neighborhoods,” which provides alerts to users when other Ring doorbells in their neighborhood pick up suspicious activity.  Ring has also donated video doorbells to various community groups high crime neighborhoods to help reduce the number of break-ins.  I can’t find any evidence of programs like these offered by SkyBell.  Even if they have such programs, SkyBell is not publicizing them.  I assume Ring publicizing their products and community involvement is the “hype” referred to in the complaint (I’d call this good business.).  In any case, while SkyBell has apparently been keeping their patent attorney well fed, Ring has been building a company that sells video doorbells, and succeeding where SkyBell is not.

Despite being misled by SkyBell’s complaint, this really is a story of two patent strategies.  SkyBell focusing on building a patent portfolio claiming every innovation in the broadest terms, and Ring focusing on building a successful business and patenting innovations associated with their products.  Both strategies have their place; however, in a rapidly developing field like the internet of things (IOT) where the time period you have to get your product in the hands of consumers is short, investing in building and publicizing your business, rather than building a large and broad patent portfolio may be prudent.   We’ll see who wins in court, but it’s pretty clear to me that Ring has already won in the marketplace. 

As for SkyBell’s complaint, a strongly worded complaint has its place.  If Ring is infringing a valid claim of any of SkyBell’s asserted patents, they should pay a reasonably royalty.  However, I would not use Connor McGregor as its editor.  What is the point of puffery when the “facts” asserts are irrelevant and largely incorrect?  Sloppy and unprofessional.