Apple and Fitbit Sued Over Wearable Physiological MonitoringJanuary 14, 2016

For many, the start of a new year is a time for setting New Year’s resolutions. Many of these resolutions will include goals for the year, like saving money, paying off debts, volunteering in the community more, and living a healthier lifestyle. Living a healthier lifestyle and/or getting in better shape are always popular resolutions. Individuals may be further motivated to achieve these goals having just received new workout apparel and/or the latest fitness tech gadgets during the holiday season. Two popular manufacturers of fitness tech gadgets, Fitbit, Inc. and Apple, Inc., appear to be headed to court after Valencell, a company specializing in the research and development of wearable biometric devices, filed separate infringement suits against Fitbit and Apple.

Valencell is located in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, and is the owner of a number of patents generally related to biometric devices and methods of measuring physiological information. Valencell develops performance biometric sensor technology and licenses this patent-protected technology to consumer electronics manufacturers, mobile device and accessory makers, sports and fitness brands and gaming companies for integration into their products.

In the complaints filed against Apple and Fitbit, Valencell alleges that Apple and Fitbit each infringe U.S. Patent Nos. 8,886,269 (“Wearable light-guiding bands for physiological monitoring‚¬), 8,989,830 (“Wearable light-guiding devices for physiological monitoring‚¬), 8,923,941 (“Methods and apparatus for generating data output containing physiological and motion-related information‚¬), and 8,929,965 (“Light-guiding devices and monitoring devices incorporating same‚¬). Perhaps the most interesting part of both complaints is that Valencell alleges that both Apple and Fitbit were willful in their infringement of Valencell’s patents.

With regard to Fitbit, Valencell alleges that Fitbit has been aware of Valencell since at least 2009, based on the co-founder of Fitbit approaching Valencell about incorporating a heart rate monitor in Fitbit’s products. Furthermore, Fitbit expressed an interest in licensing Valencell patents in 2013. Valencell also alleges that Fitbit was aware of the Valencell patents based on Fitbit including various Valencell patents and applications on Information Disclosure Statements filed to the USPTO on Fitbit’s behalf.

Regarding the suit against Apple, Valencell alleges that in 2013, while Apple was developing the Apple Watch, Apple approached Valencell about forming a partnership. Apple appeared to be interested in Valencell’s heart sensor technology. Valencell also alleges that a number of IP addresses that are registered to Apple were used to repeatedly access the Valencell Website. Furthermore, Valencell provided a demonstration of its Perform Tek-Powered watch to Apple in the summer of 2013.

Valencell is seeking monetary damages in addition to a preliminary and permanent injunction. If either Apple or Fitbit are found to infringe, and that infringement is found to be willful, it could trigger enhanced monetary damages, with as much as three times the damages awarded to Valencell. Potential defenses that may be raised by Apple and/or Fitbit include challenging the validity of the Valencell patents and or asserting that they do not infringe the Valencell patents. With the popularity of Fitbit Activity Trackers and the Apple Watch, it will be interesting to see how this case is ultimately resolved.

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