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| December 12, 2020

AliveCor Sues Apple Over EKG Patent Infringement

Marina Turea

Marina is passionate about all emerging technologies in the healthcare space and love to write about all of them. Marina is passionate about all emerging technologies in the healthcare space and love to write about all of them.

AliveCor is a medical device and artificial intelligence (AI) company based in California. Founded in 2011, the company sells ECG (electrocardiography) hardware and software for consumer mobile devices such as smartwatches. In early December 2020, AliveCor filed a patent lawsuit against tech giant Apple claiming the computer company has infringed on three patents. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas.

How It Happened

AliveCor developed a product called the KardiaBand. It was one of three different “Kardia” items released by the company. The FDA approved the KardiaBand in 2017. It was designed as a wrist-band ECG reader specifically for the Apple Watch to detect atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). The product contained SmartRhythm software which used AI to analyze data from the built-in sensors. The product was discontinued in 2019.

The issue stems from Apple Watch Series 4 and newer devices. The software update for Apple Watch Series 4 was released in July 2019 and it contained an ECG app. The app made use of the digital crown on the watch and sensors located along the bottom of the watch. Combined, they work to monitor the electrical patterns of the wearer’s heartbeat. Should an issue be detected, the watch would issue an alert following analysis of the data collected.

What AliveCor Says About The Matter

AliveCor says Apple was aware of the patents and that not only has Apple infringed upon them, but the tech company also continues to infringe upon them. AliveCor requests that Apple stop the infringement and provide a cash settlement to pay for damages, attorney fees, and other costs incurred by AliveCor in connection to the lawsuit. At the time of AliveCor’s launch of the KardiaBand, the company didn’t see any threats from Apple. AliveCor’s interim CEO was quoted at the time as stating AliveCor was “not convinced that Apple’s excellent, engaging product is a competitor yet.” Since discontinuing the KardiaBand, AliveCor has focused on a six-lead smartphone ECG device and a software-based screening and analysis service that would be available for consumers to access along with provider users.

The Patents Involved In The Lawsuits

The three patents AliveCor says Apple infringed upon include:

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#10,595,731 – Methods and systems for arrhythmia tracking and scoring (state-of-the-art diagnosis),

#10,638,941 – Discordance monitoring (limitations in techniques and equipment), and

#9,572,499 – Methods and systems for arrhythmia tracking and scoring (inventors’ improvement in techniques and equipment).

Not The First Lawsuit Against Apple

In January, a patient monitoring company called Masimo filed a lawsuit against Apple. This one accused Apple of poaching employees and stealing trade secrets. The lawsuit went on to allege that Apple stole patented technology in an attempt to “improve the health monitoring capabilities of the Apple Watch.” Details in the lawsuit point to a meeting in 2013 between the parties where Apple approached Masimo with the hopes of establishing a partnership on non-invasive technology that would enable the tracking of heart rate and other health biometrics. Following the meeting, Apple allegedly hired engineers and key personnel that were employed by Masimo at the time.

Then in September 2020, Masimo filed a second lawsuit against Apple. This time around, Masimo claims Apple is purposely delaying the first lawsuit so that the tech giant can “gain a more dominant share of the smartwatch market” using blood-oxygen monitoring technology Masimo says Apple stole from them. Masimo fears that further delay of the legal action “would allow Apple to seize on a critical window of opportunity to capture an emerging field.” Masimo adds, “Just as it has done in numerous other markets, Apple seeks to use its considerable resources and ecosystem to capture the market without regard” to the patents being infringed upon.

Joe Kiani, the Masimo CEO, puts it best with this comment: “I have seen reports from consumers and others suggesting that the Series 6 be used as a medical product. Not only will that harm consumers themselves, but it will also reduce our opportunity to sell truly clinical-grade products to consumers.” Aside from this, the apparent delay by Apple to resolve the legal battle launched by Masimo should be a signal to AliveCor that a resolution is very likely not going to happen anytime soon. These types of lawsuits, depending on the factors involved, can take several years to settle.

What Apple Is Doing

The California-based multinational tech company is carrying on with business as usual and was recently granted a new patent for a non-invasive measurement system for taking blood pressure. The patent details describe the methods to be used that would include ways in which the technology can be used to measure – with a wrist-worn device – mean arterial pressure or changes in blood pressure. The patent refers to the methods of measurement in this manner: “…which are less bulky than current devices and may facilitate more frequent and accurate blood pressure monitoring.” Drawings and images that are part of the patent shows how the sensors are used and that they are built into the watchband. The images also show other components that are meant to improve the measuring accuracy. It isn’t the first time Apple has applied for patents for a blood pressure monitoring feature for its smartwatch product.

Apple Launches Fitness+

It was on December 14, 2020, when Apple launched its newest service known as Fitness+. If you are an Apple Watch owner, the program is aimed at providing you with at-home workout options which range from cycling, yoga, treadmill, and many more. The personalized fitness experience is a paid subscription program that works with Apple Watch Series 3 or later and is supported on select iPhones, iPads, and Apple TV devices. 

Summary

Apple forges ahead with technological advances applied to each generation of its Apple Watch product. However, some of the technology being used in recent versions has come under fire from smaller tech companies that have filed lawsuits against Apple. The most recent from AliveCor alleges Apple has infringed upon three of their patents that led to the development of an ECG feature on the Apple product. It’s anyone’s guess how this will play out, but one thing is for sure, the lawsuits have not slowed Apple down one little bit.


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