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Apple and Fitbit face patent infringement lawsuit over wearable technologies

By Kathryn Higgins

06 January 2016 at 09:02 BST

Biometric sensor technology developer Valencell has filed lawsuits against both Apple and Fitbit in a US district court, alleging breaches of the company's intellectual property rights.

Apple: copyright case defeat

Valencell grants licenses to consumer electronics manufacturers for the performance biometric sensor technologies it develops, rather than manufacturing its own products. According to documents lodged with a court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the company is alleging that features included in three consumer technologies – the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Surge and the Fitbit Charge HR – infringe upon patents currently held by Valencell. While the details of the complaints vary, the four patents of concern are the same for both companies and relate to the inclusion of physiological and motion-based sensors within the products.

PerformTek White Paper

In the complaint against Apple, Valencell has accused the consumer technologies giant of illegally downloading a white paper entitled 'PerformTek Precision Biometrics: Engaging the Burgeoning Mobile Health and Fitness Market'. The paper included details of the PerformTek watch prototype, developed by Valencell. While the paper was publicly available, downloading parties were required to enter accurate contact information in order to access the document so that Valencell would be able to follow up. Allegedly, Apple failed to provide such information – the company's downloads of the paper in March 2013, March 2014 and April 2015 only came to light via IP address tracing, which linked the downloads to Apple.

Possible Copying

Though it is inessential to proving a patent infringement, Valencell claims that both Apple and Fitbit have been privy to demonstrations of the PerformTek prototype in the past. According to court documents, 15 Apple employees were present at a demonstration of the PerformTek prototype in 2013, of which 'one or more' were later involved in the development of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch's heart rate monitor feature is very similar to a feature of the PerformTek product, as both use infrared or green LED light 'flashes' to detect and monitor heart rate on the wearer's wrist. Similarly, the complaint against Fitbit alleges that Fitbit representatives expressed interest in the PerformTek prototype after being placed in 'close proximity' to the Valencell booth at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, but failed to respond to follow up requests from the company. Commenting on the allegations, a spokesperson for Fitbit told The Global Legal Post: “As the pioneer and leader in the connected health and fitness market, Fitbit has independently developed and delivered innovative product offerings to empower its customers to lead healthier, more active lives. Since its inception, Fitbit has more than 200 issued patents and patent applications in this area. Fitbit plans to vigorously defend itself against these allegations." Sources: Valencell Press Release; Ars Technica


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