Fitbit Patents Lodged Against Jawbone Invalid, Judge Says

Fitbit Inc.’s three patents used in its case against Jawbone Inc. are invalid, a U.S. trade judge said as he canceled an August trial between the rival makers of fitness devices.

U.S. International Trade Commission Judge Thomas Pender ruled that the patents don’t cover ideas eligible for protection, according to a notice posted on the agency’s electronic docket. Pender said the case should be terminated “in its entirety.”

The decision may be sweet justice for Jawbone -- Fitbit successfully made similar arguments that some of Jawbone’s patents weren’t eligible for legal protection. This year, the companies lodged increasingly harsh claims as each tried to shut the other out of the U.S. market.

Fitbit said it’s disappointed in the judge’s decision and has a strong legal basis to ask the full commission to overturn it.

“Fitbit will continue to assert its IP against Jawbone as appropriate to protect the innovations central to our product offerings,” the company said in a statement.

Pender’s written decision wasn’t publicly available.

“This case, among other patent actions, was brought improperly by Fitbit in an attempt to burden Jawbone with having to defend invalid patents in multiple venues,” Jawbone said in a statement.

Jawbone, whose parent company is Aliphcom, is challenging the invalidity findings against its patents. All that’s left of its case are allegations that Fitbit gained improper access to Jawbone trade secrets; the trial in that case was heard in May. The company said it also has a trade-secret case pending against Fitbit in California state court that “continues to move toward trial.”

Fitbit remains the lead fitness device maker, more than doubling sales last year even while losing market share. Still, the stock is down 71 percent from a year ago as investors fear the momentum will slow and device manufacturers like Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and Xiaomi Corp. will gobble more of the market.

Fitness Tracking

The three Fitbit patents in the case relate to portable monitoring devices, a wearable heart-rate monitor and a system where a motion detector monitors physical activity.

It’s become easier to invalidate certain types of patents thanks to a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including a June 2014 decision that said software developers can’t just get a patent on a concept that’s implemented on a computer.

Both companies have their devices manufactured in Asia, giving the Washington trade agency the authority to consider whether to block imports based on the patent and trade secret allegations.

The patent dispute isn’t Fitbit’s only legal worry. Consumers alleged in the May 2015 complaint that the devices “consistently misidentify sleep” while falling “far below an acceptable standard of accuracy to render it useful in any way for scientific purposes.” The company is facing a similar suit challenging the accuracy of its heart-rate monitoring technology. In both cases, the company said it never claimed the devices would be scientifically accurate.

The Fitbit case is In the Matter of Certain Wearable Activity Tracking Devices, 337-973, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

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