Philips is accusing two leading wearables players, Fitbit and Garmin, of stealing its intellectual property.
Philips is accusing two leading wearables players, Fitbit and Garmin, of stealing its intellectual property.
Photo: Richard Drew (AP Photo)

Philips is accusing two of the highest profile players in the wearables market, Fitbit and Garmin, of stealing its propriety technology, and it wants the companies to be brought to justice. Specifically, it is asking for Fitbit and Garmin, along with three other companies, to pay tariffs or be subjected to an import ban.

The U.S. International Trade Commission announced on Friday that it was investigating specific “wearable monitoring devices, systems and components” in light of a complaint filed by Philips’ parent company and its North American subsidiary. The complaint alleges that certain companies have infringed on Philips’ patents or misappropriated its intellectual property.

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In addition to Fitbit and Garmin, the complaint also accuses Ingram Micro Inc., Maintek Computer and Inventec Appliances of violating Philips’ intellectual property rights.

According to The Verge, the case is based on four patents owned by Philips related to smartwatch and fitness tracker functions like motion tracking and alarm reporting, among others.

In a statement provided to Gizmodo, Philips claims that it has tried to negotiate worldwide licensing agreements with Fitbit and Garmin for three years, but that the talks had ultimately broken down.

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“Philips expects third parties to respect Philips’ intellectual property in the same way as Philips respects the intellectual property rights of third parties,” the company said in the statement.

Philips also stated that it invests globally in R&D to create innovations, including wearables, to improve people’s health.

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If you scratched your head when you began reading this article and tried to remember exactly what wearables Philips makes, you’re not alone. Fitbit and Garmin are household names because they’ve been major players in the worldwide wearables market since 2014, according to data published by Statista. Additionally, in December, the market research firm IDC designated Fitbit as one of the top five wearable companies worldwide by shipment volume in the third quarter of 2019.

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Nonetheless, Philips did indeed launch its own smartwatch in 2016, the Health Watch. Contrary to smartwatches and fitness trackers, Philips positioned its wearable as primarily a health device. The Health Watch, which was sold for $249.99, had a simple design that was not necessarily what I would consider sleek. It also offered limited features, all of which focused on health, that are available in other wearables.

The Health Watch let users monitor their heart rate, get insights on their breathing, track their steps, monitor their sleeping habits and control calories. The watch also came with an app, which Philips claimed offers users the opportunity to monitor their vitals and get “personalized feedback and advice” on their health.

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A Philips spokesperson told Gizmodo that Philips no longer sells the Health Watch. Philips said it offers wearables to help people get a good night’s sleep at home and monitor vital signs in hospitals. 

Fitbit has rejected Philips’ accusations and said that the complaint is related to Philips’ failure in the wearables market. In a statement to Reuters, it said that it would defend itself vigorously against all accusations made in the complaint. Fitbit was acquired by Google for $2.1 billion at the end of last year.

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“We believe these claims are without merit and a result of Philips’ failure to succeed in the wearables market,” Fitbit said.

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Philips denied to comment on Fitbit’s characterization of its complaint.

Updated on Jan. 12 at 10:27 a.m. EST: We’ve updated the story with information about the Health Watch’s availability and the statement we received from Philips.

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