Judge Pares Down Fitbit’s Patent War With Jawbone

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge handed two warring fitness-tracker makers a mixed bag in a ruling on the ongoing patent fight that is one front of a nasty corporate battle.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman granted in part and denied in part an attempt by Aliphcom – more commonly known as Jawbone – to dismiss a patent infringement case brought by rival Fitbit.

Freeman threw out two of the claims saying they were patent-ineligible because “they are directed to abstract ideas and do not recite any inventive concepts.”

“At base, claim 20 describes nothing more than a mental process, as totaling an activity metric is something that can be done mentally or with pencil and paper,” Freeman wrote in the 37-page order issued March 2. “Indeed, humans have been doing this for decades on scoreboards and log sheets.”

Fitbit sued in September 2015, claiming Jawbone infringed three of its patents relating to technology that allows Fitbit to collect heart rate information and send it to a server for the purposes of data collection.

Freeman said the first two claims are ineligible for patent because the concepts covered do not represent some time of inventive concept the moved a given technology sector forward, but instead just represent an abstract idea applied to wearable technology.

However, Fitbit was able to convince the judge that one of the patent claims actually represented an inventive concept and therefore eligible for patent.

“In this sense, the claims of the ’971 patent are distinguishable from the claims of the ’543 and ’812 patents, as they focus not just on data collection (and reporting), but a specific, improved form of data collection,” Freeman said. “This improvement at least in part stems from an inherently technological feature – the ability of a heart rate monitor to determine when the data it is collecting reaches a certain quality – which is inextricably tied to the mechanisms by which it collects data.”

In other words, Freeman ruled that instead of attempting a generic process by which people collect heart rate or any other data and report it to a computer server or a piece of paper, the claim actually covers specific technology that improves the collection and reporting of heart rate data.

Fitbit hasn’t yet proven Jawbone infringed this technology, but only that the technology qualifies as a patent-eligible concept.

However, in an email a Fitbit representative expressed confidence they would prevail.

“We plan to demonstrate the strength of our legal position with respect to the three patents in that case and the remaining patent in this case,” the representative said. “Fitbit has successfully outcompeted Jawbone in the market and we will continue to protect our IP and halt Jawbone’s infringement of our patents.”

Fitbit and Jawbone have been locked in acrimonious legal battles for the past couple years, dating back to May 2015, when Jawbone sued claiming Fitbit poached its employees with an eye toward obtaining trade secrets.

In that lawsuit, Jawbone said Fitbit infringed its patents relating to sleep monitoring and data outputs, claims that did not hold up after International Trade Commission Judge Dee Lord said those patents sought to put a monopoly on the abstract idea of collecting and monitoring data related to sleep.

Fitbit’s case did not fare much better in the trade commission court, but its appeal landed before Freeman.

Regarding the theft of trade secrets, a trade commission judge ruled Fitbit did not misappropriate trade secrets, handing another defeat to Jawbone.

Despite the trade commission rulings, Jawbone sued in San Francisco County Superior Court claiming the same misappropriation of trade secrets claim. That case is still pending.

Similarly, Jawbone has a similar pending case in federal court regarding its patent infringement claims.

A Jawbone representative declined to comment.


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