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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

With Vivint this summer launching Vivint Sky, a new cloud-based smart home solution featuring the company’s own control panel and software, an announcement this week that Vivint has taken steps to protect its intellectual property with patents really is not surprising.

Vivint has entered into a long-term partnership with Intellectual Ventures (IV), based in Bellevue, Wash., IV announced Sept. 16.

The company is one of the nation’s largest patent holders in the world, according to CNNMoney. IV says it holds more than 40,000 patents in 50 technology areas. CNNMoney says they’re in fields that include health care, communications and energy.

Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security giant Vivint is now a customer of IV's IP for Defense program, according to IV’s news release. “Under this agreement,” the IV release said, “Vivint was granted rights to IV's extensive patent portfolio and obtained more than 20 patents in areas of interest to the company.”

IV says that “companies in rapidly growing industries rely on IV to provide ongoing guidance on the invention rights relevant to their product roadmaps. IV's IP for Defense program is also designed to level the playing field for companies faced with claims from competitors—a common issue many businesses now have to address. Under this agreement, Vivint can purchase patents from IV's portfolio on an as needed basis to protect its business.”

But CNNMoney recently termed IV “the world’s most notorious patent troll company.” Wikipedia defines a patent troll as “a person or company who enforces patent rights against accused infringers in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question, thus engaging in economic rent-seeking.”

There have been patent infringement cases in the security industry but they’ve typically been brought by the makers of products. For example, Object Video sued Sony, Samsung and Bosch in 2011 for alleged patent infringement of some of OV’s video analytics.

I asked IV about the “patent troll” characterization, and Cory Van Arsdale, senior VP of global licensing at Intellectual Ventures, responded.

“We can’t control how other people characterize us, but we are no different than any other company protecting its IP assets,” Van Arsdale said in an email interview. “Core to our business model is developing a robust marketplace for inventors. Our latest deal with Vivint is a great example of that invention marketplace at work – a marketplace in which IV has invested billions to compensate inventors for their great work while also providing companies like Vivint access to those innovations to best meet their strategic business goals.”

In the news release, Van Arsdale explained: “Over the last 15 years, IP has come into its own as an asset class because companies of all sizes have recognized the value and competitive advantage that patents can offer. Vivint recognizes that building their patent portfolio and acquiring access to inventions in deals like this with IV provides economic and strategic value as they position themselves for continued growth.”

I reached out to Vivint to learn more about how the partnership will benefit the company, but Vivint public relations manager Jenna Cason told me the company is not commenting beyond what is in the IV news release.

In a prepared statement, Paul Evans, Vivint VP of intellectual property, said, “At Vivint, we offer our customers smart tools for simple, affordable home automation. By investing in the development of our own IP strategy with Intellectual Ventures, we have taken the steps necessary to safeguard our company's growth, and in turn, our customers' connection to their most valuable assets—their homes, families, and businesses.”

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vivint has acquired a Utah-based startup, Space Monkey, to enhance Vivint’s new Vivint Sky smart home platform, according to a news release issued today.

What is Space Monkey? Founded in 2011, the company calls itself a "next generation cloud" provider that offers “both a local storage and remote network backup for higher levels of data security and redundancy,” according to the news release.

And Space Monkey bills itself as a cheaper, faster alternative to a data center, according to information the company provided during its Kickstarter campaign last year, when it successfully raised nearly $350,000.

The campaign information decries data centers as too costly and cumbersome: “These are high-cost buildings tightly packed with expensive computer equipment. They need costly fire suppression systems, diesel backup generators, expansive power distribution systems, premium network equipment, biometric access controls, security patrols, and consume vast amounts of electricity and air-conditioning. They require 24/7 staffing and Network Operations Centers. The ongoing daily costs of keeping data centers running is exorbitant compared to the actual cost of the hard drives that store your data in the cloud.”

Instead, according to the Space Monkey’s campaign information, “It’s time to change how the world stores data, forever. What if we took the cloud out of the data center and put it a little box that you plug in at your house? What if we put software on it that allows it to cooperate with millions of other devices plugged in all over the globe to create a storage network that not only is orders of magnitude cheaper than data centers, but is also more reliable, faster, and better for the environment? Space Monkey is the answer.”

It continues: “Space Monkey is the next generation cloud. ... You get a full terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of storage you can use anywhere, any time. Space Monkey does the work behind the scenes to make your data safe and secure, using the entire network of Space Monkey devices around the world to store encrypted pieces of data in a way that makes data loss a thing of the past.”

The small device, complete with a little logo of a monkey in a space suit, costs $199, the Space Monkey website says. The first year's subscription cost is free and then is $49 annually, the site says.

It also said that “Space Monkey is up to 60x faster than any other cloud service you've used (or heard of).” However, on Space Monkey’s website it has downgraded that claim to “up to 30x faster.”

Still, that’s very fast. And Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security provider Vivint says the acquisition supports the growth and development of the Vivint Sky smart home platform that Vivint introduced this summer. The solution includes the Vivint SkyControl panel featuring proprietary cloud technology that learns from homeowners’ behaviors and makes intelligent suggestions to help them control their homes better and more conveniently.

“It’s a natural fit for us to be a part of Vivint’s technology for the smart home,” Clint Gordon-Carroll, who co-founded Space Monkey with partner Alen Peacock, said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with Vivint as we continue to innovate and invest in the product.”

No information was provided about how much Vivint paid for Space Monkey. SSN continues to report on this story.

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The fact that Vivint Solar officially filed with U.S. regulators last week for an initial public offering of common stock is an indication that solar continues to be a hot option for security companies.

Vivint Solar’s parent company is Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company Vivint, which was bought by The Blackstone Group in 2012 for more than $2 billion.

Now, Reuters reported Aug. 26, Vivint Solar has filed for an IPO and set its fundraising target at about $200 million. And the news service said Vivint Solar lead underwriters to the offering are Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith and Credit Suisse.

The company will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol VSLR, Reuter said. The company plans to use the IPO proceeds to repay debts, make investments and for “other general corporate purposes,” the news service said.

Reuters had reported earlier in August that Vivint Solar had confidentially filed for an IPO. Around that same time, Protection 1, one of the nation’s largest home and commercial security, also announced it would be launching a solar division called Brite Energy. Sales of solar panels to homes and businesses are expected to begin this fall.

And earlier this year, GHS Interactive Security, a new California-based security company, announced it was partnering with Solar Universe, a leading nationwide residential solar company, to combine security and solar into a comprehensive home automation package.

Since its launch in 2011, Vivint Solar has grown to be the second largest solar installer in the country.

Reuters said that the nation’s residential solar energy market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 28 percent, to about 1,713 megawatts of capacity in 2017, according to research firm GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fire alarm manufacturer Maple Armor is investing nearly $30 million to build a new plant near Montreal, from which it intends to target the U.S. market, the company announced this week.

The full name of the company is Solutions D'alarme Incendie Maple Armor Canada and it’s a division of Beida Jade Bird Universal Fire Alarm, which is a subsidiary of the Chinese company Beida Jade Bird Group. Maple Armor’s plan to build the plant in Saint-Bruno, on Montreal's South Shore, is making big news in Canada because it’s one of the first Chinese companies to invest in manufacturing there, a company news release says.

A Quebec government agency, Investissement Québec, is contributing $4 million to the cost of the $30 million plant—with a $1 million grant and $3 million in interest-free loans, according to The Gazette, a Montreal newspaper.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the plant took place yesterday, Aug. 19, and the plant, which will have 70 employees, is expected to open by the end of 2015, the company said.

According to The Gazette, a Montreal newspaper, the plant “will build components for fire alarms, such as control panels, sprinklers and heat and smoke sensors.”

Interestingly, about 70 percent of its products initially will be shipped to China because of a strong demand for certified alarm products there, according to the company and news reports.

The Gazette said a major reason the company chose to build in Canada is that it “has a certification process that meets stringent international norms for the alarm systems.”

The plant would cost more to build in China because the process for certifying fire alarm systems is complex there, the newspaper said. Also, The Gazette said, by building in Canada, the Chinese company is eligible for NAFTA.

But the company made clear it plans to expand into the U.S. market. The Gazette reported that Maple Armor simply found it easier to build in Canada. Here’s what the newspaper had to say:

“Weimin Cai, president of Beida Jade Bird Universal Fire Alarm Devices, told The Gazette that the company is indeed targeting the U.S. market, but that Quebec offered more of a sure investment perspective.

“We think we can meet the U.S. demand from here,” Cai said. “China’s relations with Canada are very good, but sometimes China-U.S. relations suffer.

“So I think this is a better investment climate.”

In the company’s news release, Zhendong Xu, chairman of Beida Jade Bird Group, said, “We wanted to set up operations in North America to develop a new product line that meets the highest industry standards. Considering the ease of access to new markets and the presence of a highly qualified labor force, we are pleased to pursue our growth here in Quebec.”

I’ll be reporting more on this story. Stay posted.

 

by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I’ve written before about how ADT filed not just one, but two lawsuits against Orem, Utah-based Vision Security, accusing the door-knocking company of scamming customers. And I’ve also written about how Vision Security contends it is being unfairly targeted.

Now, a new settlement Vision has reached with the Idaho Office of the Attorney General paints a picture of Vision sales reps engaging in unfair sales practices in that state.

I reached out earlier this week to Vision attorney Sean Brown for that company’s comments on the settlement but I haven’t yet gotten a response.

However, according to the office of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Vision reached a settlement with that state after being accused of violating Idaho's Consumer Protection Act.

The settlement requires Vision “to implement significant changes to the way its sales representatives interact with Idaho consumers,” according to a July 18 news release from the AG’s office. Also, consumers who paid extra fees because they were scammed may be entitled to a refund from Vision if they submit a complaint form to the AG’s office by Sept. 8, the release said.

Here’s more of what the AG had to say in the release:

"The purchase of a home-security system is a significant investment and consumers should feel safe knowing that the people selling them are providing truthful and honest information, without hidden fees or misrepresentation," Attorney General Wasden said.

Consumers reported to the Attorney General that Vision Security's door-to-door sales representatives misrepresented the terms the company's security system contracts, and that representatives failed to fulfill their promises to "buy-out" consumers' current security system contracts.

Consumers often ended up paying monthly monitoring fees to two companies or paid large termination fees to cancel one of their monitoring agreements. Additionally, Vision Security's door-to-door sales contracts failed to provide consumers with accurate information about the time allowed to cancel contracts.

The settlement requires Vision Security to make several changes to how it does business in Idaho. For example, the company's sales representatives:

*Must wear identification that includes the sales person's name and affiliation with Vision Security.
*Must inform the consumer of his or her three-day right to cancel the agreement.*Must not tell consumers that their current alarm monitoring company went out of business or is affiliated with Vision Security.
*Must not misrepresent the number of security systems Vision Security has installed in the consumer's neighborhood or misrepresent that a consumer's home is located in a high-crime area
 *Must not misrepresent the condition or operability of the consumer's current security system.
 *Must not promise to "buy-out" a consumer's current monitoring agreement.
 

Hmmm…this list reads a lot like some new revisions the Electronic Security Association made to its code of ethics this summer in response to some new sales scams that ADT and other companies have complained door-knocking companies are using.

 

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It should only take about four minutes for installers to program and activate AlarmNet communicators with Honeywell’s new Interactive Voice Response system. And it’s available 24/7.

That’s what Donna Namorato, channel manager for Honeywell Security Products Americas, announced today in a post at Honeywell’s The Security Channel Blog.

Here’s more of what she had to say: “Honeywell Security Technical Support is now providing an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system for you to use to program and activate new AlarmNet communicators. The automated, voice-prompt service enables faster, more effective programming and activation of AlarmNet communicators, saving you valuable time and letting you move on to the next installation sooner.”

“With the new system,” she added, “the average usage time is only four minutes since there is no more waiting for a live operator to complete the programming process.”

Namorato said the IVR lets installers “activate a SIM, check SIM activation status and program a device for registration to an AlarmNet account.”

Honeywell describes its AlarmNet network as “a family of communications services designed specifically for the security industry.”

For more information on the IVR and how to access it, check out Namorato’s blog post.
 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Home security giant Protection 1 is up for sale for more than $1.5 billion, according to a Reuters news report this week.

GTCR, the private equity firm that bought Protection 1 in 2010 for $828 million has asked Morgan Stanley to help in the sales effort, the news service reported Aug. 4.

I’ve reached out to Romeoville, Illinois-based Protection 1 for comment on the report, which Reuters ascribed to unidentified sources.

Protection 1 is one of the largest full-service business and home security companies in the United States. As of the end of 2013, it had 1.5 million customers and $28 million in RMR, an increase of nearly 8 percent over the previous year, according to published reports. Revenues exceeded $429 million.

By contrast, home automation/home security company Vivint—which was acquired by The Blackstone Group in 2012 for more than $2 billion—ended 2013 with more than $42 million in RMR, an increase of 23 percent over the previous year. Provo, Utah-based Vivint, which has more than 800,000 customers, had in excess of $500 million in revenues in 2013, according to published information.

Stay posted. I'll be updating this story as I get more information.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I’ve written recently about Google’s $3.2 billion buy of smart thermostat and smoke alarm maker Nest Labs, and then Nest’s $555 million plan to buy Dropcam, which makes video cameras that stream video to a user’s computer or cellphone. Also, Apple in June introduced HomeKit, its new home automation/home security framework.

Now, Samsung also may be making a home automation push with a $200 million buy of startup SmartThings, according to news reports.

The potential deal was first reported in TechCrunch.

Forbes says that SmartThings is based in Washington, D.C. and “sells $100 hardware hubs and provides a cloud platform to make the hundreds of smart gadgets out on the market talk to each other in one unified app.”

Forbes notes that Samsung “already has many connected home appliances on the market.” However, Forbes says SmartThings could enhance those.

“What the SmartThings technology could do is better connect its appliances to other third-party devices onto one central platform. This is what Apple looks to be aiming to do with its HomeKit and what Nest may one day achieve after opening up its API program to allow other devices to talk to its growing family of smart gadgets.”

SmartThings, founded in 2012, has “tens of thousands” of SmartThings systems currently installed in U.S. households, Forbes said.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The BusinessDictionary defines “actionable intelligence” as data “that can be used to boost a company's strategic position against industry peers.” But with a new partnership announced this week, Vivint is using data collected from sensors in smart homes to “identify actionable insights to enrich their customers’ lives.”

Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company Vivint has partnered with Cloudera, which offers businesses “one place to store, process and analyze all their data,” according to a July 15 news release.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cloudera provides businesses with “fundamental new ways to derive value from their data.” In Vivint’s case that means, according to the news release, that “for the first time, Vivint is able to apply a new lens to data generated from intelligent devices and systems embedded with sensors in and around homes.” More than 100,000 data points “from smart sensors embedded in devices [are now] visible with Cloudera,” the release said.

Brandon Bunker, Vivint’s senior director of customer analytics and insights, put it this way in a prepared statement: “Vivint has been at the forefront of the connected home for decades, and now with the emergence of [the] IoT (Internet of Things), we are truly able to innovate by collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data from sensors embedded in our devices. We've taken that one step further with Cloudera and can now look across many data streams simultaneously for behaviors, geo-location, and actionable events in order to better understand and enrich our customers' lives.”

Vivint has more than 800,000 customers using various third party, smart-enabled devices, the release said. Each home has from 20 to 30 sensors, it said.

Here, according to the release, is how Cloudera’s services will make a difference with data from those sensors:

“Many of those devices come in the form of thermostats, smart appliances, video cameras, window and door sensors, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Without a central internal repository to gather and analyze the data generated from each sensor, Vivint was previously limited in its ability to innovate and to add higher intelligence to its security offerings. For example, knowing when a home is occupied or vacant is important to security -- but when tied into the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system, you can add a layer of energy cost savings by cooling or heating a home based on occupancy. Similarly, by adding geo-location into the equation, you can begin to adjust temperature changes to a home based on the proximity to an owner's arrival, for instance, when the owner has a connected vehicle.”
 

Such "actionable intelligence" would be a sellling point for Vivint because consumers can save from 20 to 30 percent in energy costs by turning off their HVAC systems when they’re away or sleeping, the release said.

Vivint said it chose Cloudera because it has a proven track record and a very broad “big data ecosystem, to ensure support as more and more devices are connected to the Internet each day.” The company also ensures the data’s security, the release said.

And that traditional definition of “actionable intelligence,” about boosting a company’s position against industry peers?

Well, that’s actually a part of the partnership too, according to Vivint. “This platform has differentiated our business and given us a tremendous competitive advantage,” Bunker said in his statement.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vivint is not a DIY company—it offers professionally installed and monitored home security. But its new online Support site—which the company announced this week—is geared toward those who like to take things into their own hands.

Vivint notes that it already offers customer support 24/7/365. But in addition to that, the Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company has launched the new Support site. Here’s how it describes its new online service:  

“If you’re a go-getter, a do-it-yourself-er, a knowledge-seeker, or a hate-being-put-on-hold-er, then this is great news for you. On our new Support site, you’ll find video tutorials, step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting, FAQs and more for anything from changing the batteries on your electronic door lock to adding a new camera to your system.”

I checked out the site. It’s easy to read and it provides answers to basic questions that range from “Where can I send my payment?” to “Why do you use a door-to-door approach?” Vivint’s answer to the latter is that it’s more personal and allows a sales rep to customize systems for each homeowner.

But in case anyone is wondering, Vivint stresses that the site does not replace its traditional customer service. “If you’re a I’d-rather-just-talk-on-the-phone-er, we will always be here to answer your call,” the company says.

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