Who owns Smart Energy?

There’s a lot of debate within the industry about who owns Smart Energy.  Is it the utilities?  Is it the consumer?  Will it be Google?  Until now, nobody has spotted who the real owner is, but at last it can be revealed – it’s the ZigBee Alliance.  They quietly trademarked the phrase “Smart Energy” in the US last December.  So if you make any Smart Energy product using any form of wireless, it may be time to get your cheque book out.

To be fair, ZigBee’s not the first to trademark the term.  Delaware Capital Formation are in on the act as well, but only with respect to machines, pumps and compressors.  So are Jetmax International, but they want it for solar powered lights and accumulators.  They also own it for hobby craft and educational kits.  Smartenergy Ltd of Illinois, (who, from their name would appear to have a stronger claim, and are courteous enough to elide the space between the words), own the use for heating and energy management devices and have done since 2005.  But TMI in Texas got there first, registering it for residential construction services the year before.

The utilities have been busy too, with the Northwest Natural Gas Company registering “Smart Energy” for gas utility services.  Dropping the space, SmartPak Equine use it for feed supplements for horses, which may or may not generate some more gas.

ZigBee claim that the first time the phrase “Smart Energy” was used in conjunction with wireless was the 22nd January 2008.  That would probably surprise the Smart Energy Alliance, which was formed by Capgemini, Cisco, GE Energy, HP, Intel and Oracle back in 2006.  Of course, they’re all industry minnows, compared to the ZigBee Alliance, so it’s not surprising they never noticed its existence.

The cynical may look at this and think that ZigBee is staring into its crystal ball and foreseeing a future where the smart energy industry picks a different short range wireless standard.  Owning the trademark is then a cunning ploy that allows them to sue whoever else wins, preserving their legal department, even if their members don’t sell any chips.

ZigBee didn’t just stop at trade-marking Smart Energy.  It went and trade-marked “Smart Energy Profile” as well.  Sadly, that one has already passed its sell-by date, as ZigBee has moved to Smart Energy Profile 2.0.  Which they haven’t trade-marked!  So if anyone from Z-Wave, Wireless-MBUS, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wants to jump on the bandwagon and spoil ZigBee’s game, they ought to rush out and trademark it now.

The question is, where will they stop?  Will they trade-mark “health care”, “remote control”, home automation” or “telecom services”?  They haven’t yet, but I bet they’re thinking about it. 

So prepare to be scared.  If someone knocks on your door and asks for your name, don’t tell them.  Don’t tell them your spouse’s name, your children’s, or even your pet’s.  If you’re lucky it will just be a Jehovah’s Witness.  If you’re not, it might be a ZigBee trademark lawyer, on his mission to own you and the world.