Tuesday, February 25, 2014

With Mobile Fitness Exploding, Two Heavyweights Fight Over Patents

Adidas recently sued Under Armour ("UA") and UA's subsidiary, MapMyFitness, for infringing its mobile fitness related patents.  Adidas claims that UA's performance tracking products and the suite of mobile fitness apps/websites of MapMyFitness (which UA acquired in November) utilizes Adidas' patented miCoach technology.

The miCoach fitness training devices provide audible coaching (in real time) and a web application to help optimize your workout sessions.  MapMyFitness offers users with the ability to map, record, and share their workouts.  It does this by using GPS and other technologies.  Adidas claims that UA's and MapMyFitness' products infringe on several of its patents relating to the following technologies:  a location-aware fitness training device that supports real-time interactive communication and automated route generation, systems and methods for presenting characteristics associated with a physical activity route, methods and computer program products for providing information about a user during a physical activity, and a mobile device that receives information from a server about a user’s movement.

Adidas' lawsuit specifically targets Under Armour’s Armour39 system, which includes an Armour39 module that can be attached to a chest strap (sold together); a mobile app that tracks heart rate, calories, and intensity; and a display watch that Under Armour says is an alternative to the mobile app, but sold separately.  Adidas included MapMyFitness in the lawsuit because the company offers methods for detecting, evaluating, or analyzing movement of a body or determining performance information in its apps MapMyFitness, MapMyWalk, MapMyHike, MapMyRun, MapMyRide, and MapMyDogwalk, which also can connect to the MapMyFitness Heart Rate Monitor.

What's more, Adidas claims that both UA and MapMyFitness knew of Adidas' patents, and therefore, "willfully" infringed upon them.  This allegation of willfulness stems from UA's hiring of Adidas' former senior innovation engineering manager.  If true, UA and MapMyFitness could be subjected to three times the amount of Adidas' damages and attorneys' fees.  Attorneys' fees for patent litigation are usually in excess of $ 1 million dollars.

Interestingly, it appears as if Adidas and UA are heading down the contentious path blazed by Samsung and Apple.  That is, using patent litigation as revenge for competition in the market.  In particular, UA recently signed a 10-year deal with Notre Dame which had a relationship with Adidas for 17 years.  

Clearly, this is a market which is heating up and competition is beginning to become fierce.  Both Samsung (no stranger to patent litigation all over the world) and FitBit are making forays into this market.  This will definitely be an area to keep an eye on in the future.