Limiting innovation and the challenges facing the Smart Building Industry

One of the most innovative and creative business minds of the 21st century, Steve Jobs, once said: “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat”.

Innovation is what makes the world go round. Innovative thinking is key to solving problems and to improving the lives of everyone. Creative solutions to difficult challenges are crucial to the future success of our environment and civilisation.

At Vanti, the amazing innovations and outside-the-box thinking from our teams have been a huge driver in our success. Our clients and our partners choose to work with us because we don’t offer a one-size-fits-all approach to projects. Instead we see each project we are offered up as an opportunity to create something great regardless of the unique challenges each one presents.

It’s why we’re extremely concerned to see the start of a recent trend. Johnson Controls International, a company which was founded in 1885, employs 100,000 people and operates in 150 countries, has started to sue its smart building technology competition for patent infringement after acquiring a selection of patents which have essentially created a monopoly on smart building products and future innovations.

If its cases against the likes of Willow Technology Corporation and BuildingIQ are successful and these organisations are found to be infringing, our fear is that a huge percentage of businesses within the smart building industry could also be found guilty for their own products existing at some point in the future.

Unfortunately, if this trend continues and companies are penalised for their innovation, we fear the industry will be set back another decade with opportunities to achieve Net Zero targets missed and a population’s changing needs from the built environment changing following a rapid and permanent shift in lifestyles and behaviour, not met.

A new report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that up to 40% of the global population is “highly vulnerable” to the impacts of climate change, and the impact of new development and the ongoing use of our built environment needs to be urgently addressed to help reverse the increasingly distressing climate emergency.

Recent research by the Royal Institution for British Architects (RIBA) has also suggested that approximately 38 per cent of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be attributed to buildings and construction, with rapid increases in floor area and demand for energy-consuming equipment and services contributing to the growth of carbon emissions.

This attitude of anti-innovation will slow progress in terms of sustainability and meeting our green targets at a time when we don’t have time to waste.

It will also limit the ability to improve our buildings in the future. The smart buildings industry has been dogged by single vendor solutions which lock developers, landlords and building owners into long-term contracts which make it impossible to utilise and take advantage of best of breed technologies which can solve problems more effectively. Single vendor lock-in is something our CEO Mike Brooman hoped to see the end of in 2022 when discussing his outlook for the industry at the start of the year.

If these legal claims are successful, the ability to create these best of breed technologies will be severely limited and could inhibit new thinking and creative solutions to urgent problems.

Of course, Johnson Controls International is well within its rights to claim infringement where they believe they have been wronged, and genuine plagiarism and underhand dealings should absolutely be called out.

It’s why we would urge a more open and transparent attitude towards these cases, so that those working in the industry can understand why this is happening and the fears we have can be allayed. By seemingly shielding themselves in silence, It’s easy to infer an aura of culpability which could well be mistaken. We’re strong believers that an open and honest conversation would benefit everybody hugely.

Innovation should not be seen as a threat to a business, but spur on creative minds to further improve new thinking, new solutions and new products for the greater good of our industry and our future. It is imperative that in times of great challenge, innovation should be able to take its best course.