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Wearable maker claims Apple and Fitbit stole its tech

Valencell insists that the Apple Watch and Fitbit's activity trackers are infringing on its patented health monitoring.

There's a longstanding legal tradition in tech: a small company gets patents on a nice idea, finds only modest success selling the idea and finally sues the living daylights out of its bigger rivals. And unfortunately, that's carrying on in the wearable era. Valencell is suing both Apple and Fitbit over claims that they both infringe on four patents for accurate health monitoring, including "light-guided" devices like heart rate monitors.

There's some evidence to back up the claim. The company says that it offered a demo of its heart monitor tech to Apple in 2013, only to find that the Apple Watch was reportedly using similar technology two years later. Also, it alleges that seven Apple Watch project members provided bogus identities so that they could download Valencell's freely available white papers (and thus swipe ideas) without having to discuss a patent deal. It's not certain if Fitbit is facing similar accusations, but Valencell is insistent that both companies should have asked for a license.

Apple hasn't commented on the lawsuit, but Fitbit tells ZDNet that it has its own patents in the field and plans to fight back. Just who's in the right isn't clear, at any rate. If Valencell's evidence holds up in court, it's pretty damning. It suggests that Apple, at least, was knowingly piggybacking on a smaller company's inventions. However, we've seen more than a few lawsuits where the plaintiffs insisted that a meeting was all it took for rampant copying to take place -- just seeing an idea in action doesn't mean there was theft. It's also pretty bold to claim that two independent companies stole the exact same ideas. While Valencell may be right, it'll have a lot to prove if it wants to collect any damages.

[Image credit: AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato]

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