In context: Patent disputes are the norm in the tech industry. It feels like one company is always accusing another of swiping their legally-protected ideas, and it's never clear who will come out on top. For better or worse, we're seeing this trend present itself once again: federal investigators are officially looking into Fitbit and Garmin after fellow wearable device maker Philips accused them both of violating its patents.
This news was first revealed by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) in a press release today. This organization, for the unaware, investigates unfair trade practices, as well as copyright, trademark, and -- of course -- patent disputes.
In this case, Philips (yes, the same Philips that makes color-changing Hue bulbs) believes Garmin, Fitbit, and other wearable device makers copied a few patented, smartwatch-related ideas for use in their own products. Some of the wearable gadget functions being disputed include motion tracking, activity monitoring, and "alarm reporting" technology.
In other words, it seems Philips is aiming to claim ownership over a few very basic smartwatch features -- or at least, specific implementations of those features. Whether or not those claims will hold up remains to be seen.
The USITC's investigation has only just begun, and it will be some time before any concrete answers turn up. The organization will need to question representatives from all "respondent" companies and look for evidence to support or detract from Philips' assertions.
The USITC has made it clear that it has "not yet made any decisions" on the merits of this case. Today's announcement is just that; an announcement, and not confirmation that Philips or Garmin have actually broken any patent laws. The USITC will reveal a "target date" for the completion of its investigation within 45 days, however, so we'll be sure to update this article when that information is released.
For those who aren't familiar with the products developed by the companies mentioned above, Fitbit is best known for its varied line of fitness trackers, such as the Charge or Versa 2. Garmin's product line-up is a bit less specialized: it does make fitness trackers, but also smartwatches, GPS devices, and more.
Philips' sole wearable device is its "Health Watch," which is no longer officially available for purchase from the company's website. When it was, it cost a whopping $250 and offered very similar features to other fitness trackers on the market.
Fitbit, for its part, is none too pleased with these accusations. "We believe these claims are without merit and a result of Philips's failure to succeed in the wearables market," the company allegedly said in a statement to The Verge. We'll have to wait and see who will win this patent battle.