The U.S. will investigate Garmin, Fitbit, and others for patent infringement

Philips sued the companies last year

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On Friday, The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) launched an investigation into several companies believed to be infringing on Philips patents. The patents are all related to activity tracking. Philips singled out Garmin and Fitbit in a similar GPS-related lawsuit last summer, but a December complaint to the USITC also accuses one Californian and two Chinese companies.

What are the patents? — Philips believes that Garmin, Fitbit, Ingram Micro, Maintek Computer, and Inventec Appliances used four patents without proper licensing. They covered accelerometer-based activity tracking, sleep/wake tracking, and an alarm notification system. The December complaint suggested an import ban or tariffs on companies found guilty of infringement.

Could the complaint have merit? — “We believe these claims are without merit and a result of Philips’ failure to succeed in the wearables market,” Fitbit said to The Verge.

Philips didn’t have a great run in the wearables space, but it should be noted that it wasn’t always chilly between all of these companies. Garmin used “Philips technology” to measure pace and heart rate in a discontinued fitness tracker.

Philips is still a major player in the U.S. healthcare space, implying a respected level of accuracy in its readings. The USITC has not yet determined the veracity of the case, but it’s equally plausible that Philips just trying to cash in on successful wearables or its intellectual property is being misused.