Someone’s knocking at the door

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Somebody’s ringin’ the bell

Invented in 1831 by Joseph Henry, an American. They were loud – doorbells, not the Americans. Emitting an electronic buzz. Think of your favourite fat-fingered Aunt playing the children’s board game “Operation” – that kind of sound. Quite annoying really – doorbells, not the Americans. They’ve come a long way – no, I’m not going there a third time!

In the 1930’s the buzzer sound was replaced by more gentle chimes; tunes even. Musical chimes with pleasing tones. Unsurprisingly, the Great Depression and WW2 temporarily stifled popularity. The 1950’s witnessed a surge in musical doorbells. A hedonistic release if you will, from fighting tyrants, dodging bombs, and poverty, all encapsulated in a door chime.

Well, it’s true, they have come a long way. Enter the age of the video doorbell quite possibly incorporating a safety light, speakers, facial recognition, instructions to delivery drivers – you name it. It’s now quite smart and a far cry from the sweet tones of Greensleeves.

Pub quiz fodder:  the eight-note chime perhaps most synonymous with doorbells comes from Handel’s Messiah. A-F-G-C, C-G-A-F, that one. Now you know.

This seemingly innocuous every-day item is an IP lawyer’s dream. Copyright, invention, design, functionality. And so, evidently, it continues.

Let ‘em in

This month Vivint Inc., maker of smart doorbell cameras was judged to have infringed another’s intellectual property rights and ordered to pay $45.4m to its competitor SB IP Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of SkyBell Technologies, for infringing two patents dealing with doorbell camera technology. The decision will likely be appealed of course.

The successful complaint said:

Vivint infringed a patent through its doorbell products having a smartphone App that allows a user to see video transmitted from the doorbell camera. SB IP said Vivint’s video doorbell products infringed another patent by transmitting video data wirelessly with an exterior device using a camera, microphone, proximity sensor, and keypad.

This tech sounds so familiar to us and yet, behind it, an almighty scrap is breaking out in the shadows over quite who owns what and therefore who has and who doesn’t have, the right to exploit this growing market.  Moreover, the court found Vivint’s IP breaches were wilful, opening the door (forgive me!) to the level of damages being potentially tripled.

Everything about these smart tech doorbells reeks of IP. The functionality package, the App they typically sit on, the design, look and feel, image storage facility, communication ability even the adjustable mount upon which it sits. All protectable. All capable of infringement, wittingly or otherwise.

Is your smart doorbell a smart move?

So, the next time you bore – sorry dazzle – your dinner party chums by demonstrating the zoom facility on your smart doorbell camera App, picking out in fine detail the beauty of your electric gates and pock-marked, weed-covered drive, spare a thought for the legal tug-of-war going on behind the scenes. You might also wish to consider the following legalities of ownership:

  • People should try to point their doorbell cameras away from their neighbours’ homes and gardens, shared spaces, or public streets.
  • If a neighbour’s doorbell camera records onto your property, the position is regulated under GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and The DPA (Data Protection Act). There may also be a harassment or nuisance claim depending on the extent of the filming and the circumstances of the case.
  • It’s perfectly legal to use a doorbell camera or similar smart device. However, make sure your neighbours know about it, and change the settings so you’re only capturing the smallest area necessary. 150 metres of vista might be overdoing it!
  • If you refuse to supply Police, when asked to do so, with doorbell camera evidence, Police can bring a search warrant and take the footage from you.

Hmmm, not so sure about it all now, are we?

Here’s comes the crunch…

There is body of evidence to suggest doorbell cameras attract criminals to your property.

According to Claire Nee, Professor of Criminological Psychology at Portsmouth University:

“Burglars process visual cues that indicate affluence, access and security instantaneously as they prowl your neighbourhood…unfortunately, many cues that we think enhance our security, just indicate to a burglar that there is something to steal…smart doorbells are an example of this”. 

Oh dear. All a bit of a dampener for your dinner party demo’. Turn the App back on and you might be just in time to see your doorbell camera being disconnected and stolen. And all before pudding.

Turn back chime

Perhaps it’s time to fit a stout brass knocker and call the Kennel Club for its advice on the world’s noisiest hound?

Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited 
+44 (0) 780 145 9940


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