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Fitbit is active in the legal arena again. It has been embroiled in numerous patent infringement and trade secret cases over the last few years with companies such as Jawbone and Valencell.
Most recently, Fitbit was sued last year by Immersion in both the US and China for using what Immersion claims are three of its patented technologies related to Haptic Feedback. (For those keeping track, that would be patents 8,351,299, 8,059,105, and 8,638,301.) What is Haptic Feedback? More on that later.
No Merit ... OK, Wait, Maybe...
Immersion had tried, unsuccessfully, for years to settle this disagreement while Fitbit continued to use the technologies in multiple products, including Flex wristband and Blaze smartwatch.
Fitbit claimed it really thought that it wasn't violating any of these patents and that Immersion's claims had "no merit." But Fitbit mysteriously changed courses and agreed to sign a multi-year licensing agreement to use these patents for undisclosed terms.
What Is Haptic Feedback?
"Haptic" comes from the Greek phrase "I touch." Haptic Feedback refers to the way a device "communicates" with its user/wearer through sophisticated vibration. For instance, in the olden days, a pager would use vibration to alert its user that a message had been received. Vibration's sophisticated cousin, Haptic Feedback, refers to the "smart" ways that a device can use various vibrations to alert the user to different things. For instance, a short vibration means you have a text coming in, a longer vibration is a calendar alert, and an even longer vibration signals an incoming call.
What Exactly Is Patent Infringement?
Intellectual Property terms get thrown around a lot, but many people might not exactly understand what is being discussed. A popular intellectual property claim, patent infringement, arises when an infringing party (in this case, Fitbit) makes, uses, or sells a patented item without the permission of the patent holder (in this case, Immersion).
The patent holder may choose to sue the infringing party to stop making or stop doing whatever is purportedly violating its patent, and can also sue to receive compensation for the unauthorized use. Since intellectual property is governed by federal law, the patent holder must sue the unauthorized party in federal district court. And they must do so within six years from the start of the infringement.
Why Settle Now?
After claiming for some time that the suit had no merit, Fitbit may have started to see things a bit differently. In March 2018, Fitbit tried to put an end to two of these patent lawsuits (8,059,105 and 8,351,299), but California Federal District Court Judge Lucy Koh refused to find that they were abstract and patent-ineligible. A legal showdown was inevitable, and Fitbit took the bait and settled. The good news is that you, the consumer, need not worry at all. This is between Fitbit and Immersion, and it seems like all has been settled. Continue using your Fitbit in good health!
However, if you feel your patent has been violated, or if you are interested in getting help filing a patent, see our legal database of Patent Attorneys to help get you moving in the right direction - before it's too late!