It was only founded in 2010, by Tony Fadell, who had been Senior Vice President of Apple's iPod Division. While building an energy-efficient house he was frustrated by the limitations of thermostats. The company started, almost inevitably, in a garage.
This is yet another indication that Google is expanding into high-tech areas. Nest Labs is a designer of thermostats with a difference: the Nest Learning Thermostat, a smart device that can perform a variety of functions, to help create an intelligent or smart house.
In December 2013, for example, they were granted the US patent Dynamic distributed-sensor thermostat network for forecasting external events. Here is one of its drawings.
Much of their work is based on assessing occupancy in rooms to reduce energy usage, as in Occupancy pattern detection, estimation and prediction, illustrated below.
This is a list of the US granted patents published in their name, with the two at the top published only the 14 January, yesterday, and hence not yet available on the Espacenet database. Eleven were published in 2012. There is an overlap with the US patents applications published from 2012.
The company does not restrict itself to thermostats. Their smoke detector is discussed in a New Yorker article by Matt Buchanan, Can smart design make you love their smoke detector ?
This is a list of granted US patents by Tony Fadell.
Below is a video of a (half hour) interview with Fadell.