Valencell, a small Raleigh company that licenses its technology to makers of wearable smart devices, has filed patent infringement lawsuits against industry giants Apple and Fitbit.
In separate lawsuits filed Monday in federal district court in Raleigh, Valencell alleges that the two companies knowingly and wrongly used its technology without obtaining a license. The lawsuit against Apple centers on the company’s smart watch, the Apple Watch, which was launched in April; the Fitbit lawsuit concerns that company’s Charge HR and Surge fitness devices.
Founded in 2006, Valencell’s patented PerformTek technology enables wearers of armbands, headsets and other devices to accurately monitor key health data such as heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level and aerobic fitness while on the move. Valencell, which touts the accuracy of its biometric data, has licensed its technology to more than 25 companies, including LG Electronics and Sony.
Among other things, Valencell is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions barring the two defendants from infringing on its patents as well as unspecified monetary damages. In the case of Apple, Valencell also is seeking reimbursement of its attorneys’ fees and treble damages.
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In response to the lawsuit, Fitbit said in a statement that it was an industry pioneer that “has independently developed and delivered innovative product offerings” and has amassed more than 200 issued patents and patent applications.
“Fitbit plans to vigorously defend itself against these allegations,” the company stated.
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment. Nor did Steven LeBoeuf, Valencell’s co-founder and president, or Raleigh attorney Lynne Borchers of Myers Bigel Sibley & Sajovec, who filed the suits on Valencell’s behalf.
In a statement issued by the company, LeBoeuf said Valencell is defending its intellectual property “to ensure our current and future licensees get the full value of licensing our inventions.” Valencell has obtained 29 patents to date and has another 60 patents pending.
Both lawsuits contend infringement of four Valencell patents related to the company’s heart sensor technology, which is used to calculate the wearer’s pulse.
The lawsuit contends that “Apple solicited technical information and know-how from Valencell on the false premise that it wished to license Valencell’s PerformTek technology.” That includes meetings with Valencell employees, including LeBoeuf, and requesting products powered by PerformTek technology.
A number of Apple employees also provided “fictitious information” to obtain Valencell “white papers” from the company’s website, the lawsuit alleges.
“Apple’s interaction with Valencell was fueled by a business decision that the benefits of infringing upon Valencell’s patented technology outweigh the risk of being caught and ultimately forced to pay damages,” the lawsuit states. “This practice is consistent with the statement by Apple CEO Steve Jobs that Apple has “always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
In the lawsuit against Fitbit, Valencell contends that Fitbit was familiar with the company’s technology.
For example, in 2013, according to the lawsuit, Fitbit co-founder James Park expressed an interest in obtaining a license from Valencell. But the company didn’t respond to Valencell’s attempts to follow up. Similarly, Fitbit’s chief revenue officer, Woody Scal, “expressed interest in the application of Valencell’s patented technology” at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show.