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Nest Labs CEO advice: Startup? More like lawyer up

Startups and designers on Kickstarter, says Tony Fadell, need to brace themselves for attacks and dirty tricks from any incumbents they're challenging in the marketplace.

Nest Labs CEO Tony Fadell at LeWeb 2013
Nest Labs CEO Tony Fadell at LeWeb 2013
Stephen Shankland/CNET

PARIS -- Startups whose products challenge the incumbents need to prepare not just for competition but for dirty tricks.

That was the advice at the LeWeb conference from Tony Fadell, chief executive and founder of Nest Labs, whose Net-connected, app-enabled thermostat triggered patent-infringement suits from Honeywell and Allure Energy. The company now has expanded into smoke detectors, too.

"They will throw everything under the sun at you, and a lot of it is not cool," Fadell said. In addition to patent lawsuits, they'll trash your products on review sites. Nest Labs has been able to track some one-star reviews back to the facilities of its its competitors, he said, and he values having a lawyer who can fight the patent suits.

At Apple earlier in his career, Fadell led the iPod project. Now at Nest Labs, he's trying to bring glamor to mundane household objects. Apple was also a target for legal attacks.

"We do a good job defending ourselves," in part because Nest's legal team is led by Apple's former intellectual property officer. Apple was "sued every year by Sony or Nokia or whatever company didn't like us showing up. He brings us that confidence to bring these innovations to light."

That might not be so true of people getting a start on crowdfunding sites, no matter how skilled.

"Kickstarter and Indiegogo have passionate people, but they don't always understand what they're getting into," Fadell said.