Posted: June 29, 2015

Contributed by Goran Grbic

Did Jawbone hit the jackpot suing Fitbit for patent infringement and should others be worried?

As a regular practice, Chipworks follows patent litigations in areas of our expertise and of market interest. We review the technology area in which the lawsuit is filed and then assess the patents included. A lawsuit filed on June 10, 2015 by Jawbone and BodyMedia, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Jawbone, against Fitbit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California is a case that would not have attracted much of our attention, were it not for the following two details:

  1. Jawbone, which controls less than 5% of the wearables market, is suing a market leader for the second time in two weeks. First, for poaching employees and allegedly stealing intellectual property, and now for patent infringement.
  2. Fitbit just went public.

We wanted to assess the strength of the three patents involved in this lawsuit. It was found that the patents are good fundamental patents that Fitbit, and others in this market, should be watching carefully.

Jawbone was established in 1999 as a company called Aliph, Inc. with a goal of developing noise-cancelling technology for the U.S. military. It entered the wearables market in 2011. In April 2013, Jawbone announced its acquisition of BodyMedia, a maker of wearable health tracking devices.

According to International Business Times, Jawbone held 19% of retail fitness tracker sales in 2013, the same market where Fitbit, holding 70%, dominated. Predictions for 2015 were that fitness trackers were set to lose steam to the smartwatch (CNET, Gartner), but were expected to rebound in 2016 due to technology advances. Jawbone had positioned itself as a "lifestyle tracker" that could be worn in conjunction with smartwatches and other wearables and is expected to keep up with the tech titans.

The patents in question

Let’s take a look at the three patents included in this lawsuit:

  • US Patent 8,446,275, with a priority date of June 2011, represents, in essence, some of the basic parts and methods in wearable health and wellness modules and could be applied by any provider of those modules.
  • US Patent 8,398,546, with a priority date of June 2000, is directly related to a wearable health and wellness module and its purpose in guiding the user to understand specific functions, such as tracking weight loss. 
  • Both of these patents are close to essential patents in wearable technology. 
  • However, US Patent 8,073,707, with the same priority date of June 2000, is broader than the previous two, and is not limited to wearables. It can be applied to any computer system for collecting and storing data related to a user at a remote site. Claim language, however, is very applicable to wearable health and wellness modules, with the addition of the output device to store the information of interest to a remote site (e.g., smartphone). This patent is also fundamental to wearables and applicable to other markets.

What is particularly interesting is that these patents are referenced by many of the players in the same technology areas: companies like Integrity Tracking, Hello Inc., Omron Healthcare, Samsung (Tier 1 vendor), and Advanced Mediwatch. This gives these patents, and Jawbone, more leverage for further possible litigation. To shed more light on the case, we examined the Jawbone and Fitbit patent portfolios to compare their specific areas of expertise. 

It was a very interesting exercise to gather Jawbone patents and we needed to use several internal and external patent tools to gather all the information. Jawbone itself is not listed as an assignee, but has patents listed either through its previous company, Aliph, its wholly-owned subsidiary BodyMedia, or Silver Lake Waterman Fund as a successor agent for both Aliph and BodyMedia’s originally assigned patents (see plot below). 

It is obvious that BodyMedia’s IP brings to Jawbone a presence in areas which were not covered by the IP of Aliph and are more related to the wearables market.

Three litigated patents were discovered in the patent tools through Silver Lake Waterman Fund, with one having Aliph, and the other two BodyMedia, as original assignees.

Jawbone patents normalized assignees

We then aligned the Jawbone and Fitbit patent portfolios. When comparing companies, one aspect that we always consider is the depth of their intellectual property. Using our Chipworks Patent Analytics, we can quickly get a sense of a company’s strength, where they innovate, and how the companies compare in terms of patented technology. Learn more about how we match patents to products.

Jawbone (with all of their assignees) has a range of over 400 publications in close to 200 families worldwide. Fitbit is in a range of just fewer than 200 publications, with filings mostly in the U.S. and some in China. Both companies have more filed applications than granted patents and a fair share of design patents. 

One interesting finding is that both companies’ filed publications are mostly surprisingly different in technology areas, however, the litigated patents come from the area where the two companies overlap, with publications related to wearable technologies and applications (see plot below). Two of the three litigated patents, together with other Jawbone patents in the overlap area, have earlier priority dates than Fitbit patents. Only one of the litigated patents postdates Fitbit patents.

Jawbone vs. Fitbit portfolio

In summary, it appears that Jawbone has used some powerful patents for this attack. Is this the end of the story, or do they plan to extend their campaign to other high-fliers in the wearable market, or in other complimentary markets? We will continue to track this story, but in our opinion, it’s about to get a whole lot more interesting.