According to research from NPD, more than one in six Americans (16 percent) have a smartwatch. That number is up from 12 percent in 2017. The growing surge in the wearable market has primarily been led by a few select companies. Fitbit, Apple, and Garmin all come to mind as wearable frontrunners for the mass majority of consumers. With that being said, Philips doesn’t really ring a bell.
Nonetheless, the company has accused Fitbit, Garmin, and several other competitors of stealing its wearable tech. The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) is now investigating the issue. Philips claims that its competitors have infringed on its patents and misappropriated its intellectual property.
Although many people may be unfamiliar with it, Philips did release a wearable gadget of its own back in 2016. Dubbed the Health Watch the device retailed for $250. It was marketed as a health device and gave users features like step tracking, sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, breathing insights, and more.
However, the pricey gadget didn’t catch on in a market full of wearables designed as smartwatches that were capable of delivering the same features. Since then, Philips has been mostly absent in the wearables industry—at least in the consumer world. The company continues to make high-quality, wearable biosensors for healthcare uses.
Nonetheless, it now claims that several companies have violated its intellectual property rights. The complaint revolves around four patents for smartwatch tech including motion tracking. However, Philips’s complaint, originally filed last month, hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.
The USITC has confirmed via a statement that it intends to investigate both Fitbit and Garmin for a possible violation. It says, “The USITC has not yet made any decision on the merits of the case. The USITC will make a final determination in the investigation at the earliest practicable time.”
A representative for Philips said that the company previously engaged in licensing talks with Fitbit and Garmin for more than three years. Ultimately, those talks dissolved.
Since then, Philips and its competitors have gone in two drastically different directions. While the former withdrew from the consumer wearable market, the others have gone on to find great success.
Fitbit doesn’t take that lightly. In fact, it believes that its success is the motivation behind Philips’ complaint. A spokesperson said, “We believe these claims are without merit and a result of Philips’s failure to succeed in the wearables market.”
The company has also stated that it intends to defend itself vigorously against any accusations made by Philips. It’s worth noting that Fitbit was acquired by Google for $2.1 billion in the closing days of 2019. That could be vital if a legal battle is looming on the horizon.
Meanwhile, Garmin refused to comment on the accusations. Philips has also been silent in response to Fitbit’s statement regarding the merit of its complaint.
As the wearables market continues to grow, devices are starting to look more similar than ever. It will be interesting to see if Philips is able to back up its claims or if regulators will brush it off in the name of competition. Regardless, the outcome could have big implications for the wearables world.