It has been hard to miss the recent explosion in the use of “wearable devices” and in particular, the distinctive fitness bands which have become the latest must-have accessory for millions of us. With so-called “wearables” becoming one of the fastest growing and most lucrative sectors in consumer technology in recent years, it was surely only a matter of time before the battles over intellectual property began. And indeed, earlier this year, two of the major US rivals in the field of fitness bands locked horns in a number of IP disputes.
In view of the fierce competition in the wearables technology area and the number of heavyweight corporations jostling for market share, there has been some speculation that this could mark the start of a new patent war.
The current disputes relate to IP protection for fitness bands. Fitness bands, also known as activity trackers, are electronic bands worn on the wrist to monitor and track your heart rate, sleep quality, steps moved, distance moved, calorie consumption, etc. The bands can be wirelessly synched to your smartphone to provide continuous monitoring and feedback on your activity levels and fitness. There is a strong emphasis on the appearance of the fitness bands as well as their functionality.
On one side we have Fitbit Inc., which markets Fitbit fitness bands and currently dominates the market, with a market share of well over 50%. On the other side is rival company Jawbone Inc., which offers some popular competing products to the Fitbit, but currently holds a much smaller market share. Both companies have invested heavily in R&D and have built up significant patent portfolios to protect their devices.
In May 2015, the smaller company Jawbone fired the opening shot by suing Fitbit for poaching employees and stealing trade secrets. Shortly after this, Jawbone went on to file a US patent infringement suit against Fitbit, alleging infringement of three of Jawbone’s US patents1. This was closely followed by a complaint to the International Trade Commission (ITC) seeking to bar imports of Fitbit’s fitness bands into the US on the basis of patent infringement.
In September 2015, Fitbit responded in kind by filing a US patent infringement suit against Jawbone, asserting three of its own recently granted US patents2.
The patents asserted by Jawbone relate in relatively general terms to fitness tracker systems and methods for monitoring, processing and reporting physiological information from a user. Two of the patents include relatively broad claims and are considered by some to be close to essential patents in wearable technology. The claim scope is such that it is not just fitness bands that could potentially infringe, but also other wearable devices, most notably the smart watches entering the market. If Jawbone is successful against Fitbit, Jawbone’s patents could therefore give it a powerful tool to target other major players in the wearables market, including the likes of Samsung and Apple.
The Fitbit patents relate to more specific aspects of the functionality of the fitness bands, in particular, motion detection and heart rate monitoring. Nonetheless, since these are key aspects of many wearable devices, the Fitbit patents also have the potential for causing upset within the industry.
It is clear that there is a lot at stake for these two US fitness band rivals, but only time will tell what these disputes mean for the industry as a whole and whether we will see a new wearables patent war in the future. Whatever the outcome, the calorie expenditure is going to be huge.
- Jawbone patents: US 8,446,275, US 8,073,707 and US 8,398,546.
- Fitbit patents: US 9,031,812, US 8,909,543 and US 9,042,971.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.