Lawsuit Alleges Apple Watch Infringes on Cardiologist's Patent

Patrice Wendling

December 30, 2019

New York cardiologist Joseph Wiesel, MD, has filed a lawsuit alleging that Apple incorporated features of his patented method to detect atrial fibrillation into its Apple Watches and is engaging in "willful, intentional, and deliberate" patent infringement.

Wiesel, a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Health in New York City, received a patent (No. 7,020,514) in March 2006 for a "method and apparatus that determines the presence of atrial fibrillation" by detecting "pulse beat intervals over a short time period."

The invention determines whether the pulse beat pattern "indicates possible atrial fibrillation" and then "communicates this information to the user so that a medical practitioner may be consulted for further testing and/or treatment."

The patent does not specify a wrist-mounted watch-type device but instead suggests pulse beats may be monitored using devices such as an "inflatable-cuff" or through "changes in light transmitted through various body appendages."

The invention also may utilize "algorithmic or heuristic techniques" to determine whether the irregular pulse beats signal possible atrial fibrillation.

According to court documents filed Friday in the Eastern District of New York, Wiesel's invention covered "pioneering steps" in atrial fibrillation detection and that Apple was told about the patent in September 2017 — a year before the tech giant launched its Series 4 smartwatch with heart rhythm detection.

"Defendant has refused to negotiate in good faith to avoid this lawsuit even after Dr Wiesel provided Apple detailed claim charts highlighting the elements of Dr Wiesel's patent claims and mapping them to elements of Apple’s Watch products," the lawsuit states.

The suit claims Wiesel's patented technology is critical to the Apple Watch's ability to identify abnormal pulse rates and cites various marketing documents and the recently reported Apple Heart Study, which tested whether an Apple Watch could aid in the identification of atrial fibrillation by detecting irregular heart rhythm using photoplethysmography.

Wiesel is demanding a jury trial and requested that the court order Apple to stop infringing on his patent, pay royalties, and award triple damages based on any infringement found to be wilful. 

Wiesel has been researching innovative methods to detect atrial fibrillation for more than 20 years and has been granted five patents, according to the suit.

His faculty biography cites several studies, including a 2004 paper assessing the accuracy of a modified sphygmomanometer, the TRIPPS 2.0 trial, and a 2017 study on one-time atrial fibrillation screening with the WatchBP Home A automatic blood pressure monitor (Microlife) in a skilled nursing home facility.

News of the lawsuit was met with a mixture of barbs, praise, and yawns in response to an article on appleinsider.com. Some contributors suggested "this one might have legs" and "the doctor will be on the winning end of this suit, likely a massive settlement." Others said that "his invention without Apple's software and additional hardware is useless" and "he patented a delicious dish but didn't include the recipe."

It was noted that the case will likely not be settled for years and will be defended by a wealth of Apple attorneys, with one contributor remarking: "My hoped-for outcome is he becomes destitute from the legal fees."

Wiesel v. Apple Inc., 19-7261, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Follow Patrice Wendling on Twitter: @pwendl. For more from theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology, join us on Twitter and Facebook

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