Wearable Makers Under Scrutiny for Alleged Patent Infringement

Megan Brooks and Susan Jeffrey

January 14, 2020

Several makers of wearable technologies are under scrutiny by regulators and facing legal challenges.

In a statement issued January 10, the US International Trade Commission said it will institute an investigation of "certain wearable devices, systems, and components thereof," based on a complaint filed by Philips North America LLC and Koninklijke Philips N.V. of Eindhoven, the Netherlands on December 10.

"The complaint alleges violations of section 336 of the Tariff Act of 1930 in the importation into the United States and sale of certain wearable monitoring devices, systems, and components thereof that infringe patents asserted by the complainants," the statement notes. "The complainants request that the USITC issue a limited exclusion order and cease and desist orders."

The commission notes it has identified several "respondents to the investigation:

  • Fitbit Inc, San Francisco, California

  • Garmin International Inc., Olathe, Kansas

  • Garmin USA Inc, of Olathe, Kansas

  • Garmin Ltd, d/b/a Garmin Switzerland, Schaffhausen, Switzerland

  • Ingram Micro Inc, Irvine, California

  • Maintek Computer (Suzhou) Co, Ltd, of Suzhou New District, Jiangsu Province, China

  • Inventec Appliances (Pudong) of Shanghai, China

By undertaking the investigation, the USITC "has not yet made any decision on the merits of the case," the statement notes. The commission will make its determination on the investigation "at the earliest practicable time."

"We believe these claims are without merit and a result of Philips' failure to succeed in the wearables market," Fitbit told Reuters, saying it would defend itself vigorously against allegations made in the USITC complaint.

Trade Secrets

In a separate development, medical technology company Masimo Corporation and its spinoff, Ceracor Laboratories Inc, have accused Apple Inc of stealing "highly confidential" trade secrets and infringing on several of its patents by improperly using its inventions related to health monitoring in the Apple Watch.

Masimo has developed signal processing technology to monitor physiological parameters, such as pulse rate and arterial oxygen saturation, through sensors applied to the skin.

The lawsuit claims Apple infringed on 10 of the company's patents with the Apple Watch 4 and 5.

Masimo and Ceracor seek to block Apple from using their patented inventions and return confidential information. They also seek unspecified damages and demand a jury trial.

The lawsuit claims that Apple obtained secret information under the guise of a working relationship and then hired away top leadership.

It notes that in 2013, Apple contacted Masimo and requested a meeting to "understand more about Masimo's technology to potentially integrate that technology into Apple's products," the lawsuit reads.

Apple and Masimo entered into a confidentiality agreement, and Masimo's management met with Apple and discussed confidential information about Masimo's proprietary technology.

After what Masimo viewed as "productive" meetings, Apple poached Masimo's chief medical officer, Michael O'Reilly, for vice president of its health technology efforts. O'Reilly was privy to "extremely sensitive" information, including information about mobile medical products and applications, wellness applications, clinical data-gathering and analytics, and other technology of Masimo, the lawsuit states.

Apple also recruited Marcelo Lamego, Cercacor's chief technology officer and former Masimo research scientist. Lamego had full access to highly confidential technical information and was exposed to "guarded" secrets regarding mobile medical products, the lawsuit notes.

As part of the lawsuit, Masimo and Cercacor seek to add their engineers to seven patents and applications that were issued to Lamego.

Neither O'Reilly nor Lamego are named in the lawsuit.

The case is Masimo Corp v. Apple Inc, 20-48, US District Court for the Central District of California (Santa Ana).

It's not the first time that Apple has been sued for alleged patent infringement.

Last month, New York cardiologist Joseph Wiesel, MD, 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, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

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 found that an Apple Watch could aid in the identification of atrial fibrillation by detecting irregular heart rhythm using photoplethysmography.

Wiesel is also demanding a jury trial. The case is Wiesel v. Apple Inc, 19-7261, US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.


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