Lawsuit alleges Apple feigned partnership with Valencell to glean key Apple Watch heart rate sensor

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2016
Apple is being accused of soliciting critical information from biometrics firm Valencell, received prototypes and feigned interest in a partnership before ultimately implementing unauthorized patented tech in the Apple Watch heart rate sensor.


Valencell reference design.


In a lawsuit filed with a district court in North Carolina on Monday, Valencell claims Apple showed interest in its biometric sensing technology in early 2013, around the same time that Apple Watch development was getting underway. Specifically, Apple Senior Partnership Manager Liang Hoe reached out with a partnership proposal for wrist-based heart rate sensing technology, the suit says.

Shortly after making its interest known, Apple instructed "agents" to glean additional information from Valencell's website, which lets users download white papers relating to branded "PerformTek-Powered" biometric tech as long as they identify themselves through an online form.

A number of white papers were repeatedly accessed from multiple IP addresses assigned to Apple, though users masked their identities by providing false form information. Valencell claims to have positively identified seven individuals, all of whom played a part in designing Apple Watch's heart rate sensor.

In June 2013, Apple met with Valencell staff, including cofounder and president Dr. Steven LeBoeuf, to discuss the integration of PerformTek-Powered in certain product lines. Valencell, a Delaware-based company operating out of North Carolina, is known in the consumer biometrics space for its PerformTek sensing technology. While the company does not market products itself, its tech has been licensed earbud sensors made by Sony, LG, Jabra and iRiver, as well as wrist-mounted wearables from Atlas Wearables and Scosche. Apple's intentions came into focus when a prototype watch unit with heart rate sensing capabilities was demoed to about 15 unnamed Apple employees.

Valencell later provided Apple with technical samples for testing and analysis, while further data on wrist-worn wearables was offered throughout 2014. Apple announced Apple Watch, with a tentpole heart rate sensing feature, in September of that year.

At the time, Apple touted its biometric solution as a bespoke in-house design based on a common method of detection known as photoplethysmography (PPG), which flashes infrared and/or green LED lights to detect blood flow. Valencell technology also uses PPG, but more importantly the company made -- patented -- breakthroughs in light guiding technology to increase readout accuracy and reliability.

While detailed specifics are not available, the suit alleges Apple found it economically advantageous to take the risk of infringing upon Valencell's patents instead of licensing the technology outright.

In its case against Apple, Valencell is leveraging U.S. Patent Nos. 8,923,941, 8,886,269, 8,929,965 and 8,989,830, all of which relate to wearable biometric solutions like the one found in Apple Watch. The case filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina seeks an injunction of sales and damages.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    Should companies be held to ethical standard, or only calculate based on risk and reward?
  • Reply 2 of 39
    jfc1138jfc1138 Posts: 3,090member
    Suing over information openly available off a publicly accessible website?

    That part, at least, seems dubious.


    ETA: I suppose the litigation will further illuminate the issue as at the moment there's just the one side and taking everything one side says as truth is often the path to error.
    edited January 2016 jbdragon
  • Reply 3 of 39
    jfc1138 said:
    Suing over information openly available off a publicly accessible website?

    That part, at least, seems dubious.
    yeah, and absolutely no way to tie to WHO accessed it from Apple. For all they know, they were doing what competitors always do, check out competition and viable partners. Sounds more like they are just pissed Apple decided to go in on it's own and blocked out of what is now the largest smartwatch manufacture in the world. /shrug
    jbdragonredgeminipa
  • Reply 4 of 39
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,947member
    adrayven said:
    jfc1138 said:
    Suing over information openly available off a publicly accessible website?

    That part, at least, seems dubious.
    yeah, and absolutely no way to tie to WHO accessed it from Apple. For all they know, they were doing what competitors always do, check out competition and viable partners. Sounds more like they are just pissed Apple decided to go in on it's own and blocked out of what is now the largest smartwatch manufacture in the world. /shrug
    Kind of reminds me of a segment of the Samsung / Apple lawsuit where Samsung said Apple copied the iPad from the movie "2001 - A Space Odyssey"
    jbdragoncornchipredgeminipa
  • Reply 5 of 39
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,035member
    I think what happen here is Apple learned everything they could about this companies technology and designed around it so they did not have to license it. This has been done before, and it perfectly legal to do so. I find it interesting this company took over a year after Apple showed off the watch to finally file suit. If they really felt they were ripped off they would have jumped all over it immediate.
  • Reply 6 of 39
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,246member
    adrayven said:
    jfc1138 said:
    Suing over information openly available off a publicly accessible website?

    That part, at least, seems dubious.
    yeah, and absolutely no way to tie to WHO accessed it from Apple. For all they know, they were doing what competitors always do, check out competition and viable partners. Sounds more like they are just pissed Apple decided to go in on it's own and blocked out of what is now the largest smartwatch manufacture in the world. /shrug
    I'm leaning this way, but it's really to early to tell at this point.  Apple could have checked out the tech, found it just didn't suit them and went another direction.  Maybe with someone else.  Then again maybe it's true?!?!    This really isn't a whole lot to go on.  How this company can figure out it was Apple, OK, but who from Apple?  Let alone it was these 7 people who worked on the Apple Watch?  At least make it a little more believable.  

    I've been waiting for someone to sue over the Apple Watch.  Wait enough to get enough Sales and then SUE!!!  It was always bound to happen as it has for everything else.  When you're a huge company making billions, other want a cut of that pie one way or another.  Of course it's been know for the bug guys to also try and trample over the little guy by stealing tech.   At this time I can't really take sides one way or another without more info.

    Soli
  • Reply 7 of 39
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,363member
    How this really went down: Apple was going to go with their sensor, but the company demanded to have "PerformTEK-Powered" laser engraved around the sensor.
  • Reply 8 of 39
    It'll be an interesting case since it's difficult to ascertain if a feedback system is infringing without having access to the source code. I doubt the light flash pattern is going to be conclusive.

    Sounds more like Apple weren't impressed by the technology and rolled their own, especially notable since we've seen so much revision in how the heart rate sensor works over each software update.

    My hope is that the sensors get a significant accuracy boost in Watch 2, fluctuating heart beats (such as by start/stop exercising) seem to be the hardest for the watch to track. (Here the chest strap works much better.)
    redgeminipa
  • Reply 9 of 39
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,679member
    "This is all Cook's fault." -SOG
    Soliacaltabianofastasleepradarthekattrustnoone00lord amhranmontrosemacsfotoformatredgeminipajbdragon
  • Reply 10 of 39
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    Soli said:
    Should companies be held to ethical standard, or only calculate based on risk and reward?
    should accusations be assumed true whenever they're leveled?
    radarthekatlatifbpwilliamlondon
  • Reply 11 of 39
    "Valencell" sounds like a feminine hygiene product.   :)

    It also sounds like they don't have much of a case.  Mostly because Apple's heart rate sensor is fairly standard and very similar to a lot of other heart rate sensors out there.  It's neither more accurate nor more reliable and uses no really new technology.  It's not even that accurate.  This is why it's pretty much the only sensor that was ready on time for the (delayed) Apple Watch launch.  
  • Reply 12 of 39

    It'll be an interesting case since it's difficult to ascertain if a feedback system is infringing without having access to the source code. I doubt the light flash pattern is going to be conclusive.

    Sounds more like Apple weren't impressed by the technology and rolled their own, especially notable since we've seen so much revision in how the heart rate sensor works over each software update.

    My hope is that the sensors get a significant accuracy boost in Watch 2, fluctuating heart beats (such as by start/stop exercising) seem to be the hardest for the watch to track. (Here the chest strap works much better.)
    Or Apple simply decided that the relevant patent wasn't actually valid.  It sounds from this article that the patent applies to the way in which the light is guided through the glass of the sensor?  Sounds pretty thin to me.  

    I only had an Apple Watch for a few days before returning it, but the heart rate sensor was wildly inaccurate in my experience also.  The very fact that it takes it's readings so far apart and doesn't read the heart-rate continuously makes it so by default, but even if you trick it into continuous monitoring, it always gave me wildly varying readings (like 80-70-120-60-100-50 bpm, all within the space of a minute or two).  Maybe I just "got a bad one" but it seemed like shite to me.    
  • Reply 13 of 39
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,159member
    just because there is an interest does not make it a legal agreement.
    SpamSandwichredgeminipa
  • Reply 14 of 39

    Soli said:
    Should companies be held to ethical standard, or only calculate based on risk and reward?
    Companies in the USA get to pretend they are people and have "human rights," therefore they have the same human responsibilities (toward ethical behaviour) that we all have.  So yeah, they do have to behave ethically.  

    Even if you take the counter argument (the common sense "left-wing" one that most companies eschew), that companies aren't people ... then the company is merely an instrument and the responsibility (to behave ethically) remains and is deflected onto the owners and operators.  

    Therefore, despite your implication, there is actually never a time when a company isn't required to act ethically.  
    No one is above the law (at least technically).  
    latifbp
  • Reply 15 of 39
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,989member
    Soli said:
    Should companies be held to ethical standard, or only calculate based on risk and reward?
    So Apple is guilty by accusation alone? Are you assuming Apple is guilty? Why?
  • Reply 16 of 39
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member

    Soli said:
    Should companies be held to ethical standard, or only calculate based on risk and reward?
    Companies in the USA get to pretend they are people and have "human rights," therefore they have the same human responsibilities (toward ethical behaviour) that we all have.  So yeah, they do have to behave ethically.  

    Even if you take the counter argument (the common sense "left-wing" one that most companies eschew), that companies aren't people ... then the company is merely an instrument and the responsibility (to behave ethically) remains and is deflected onto the owners and operators.  

    Therefore, despite your implication, there is actually never a time when a company isn't required to act ethically.  
    No one is above the law (at least technically).  
    You started off with a solid response, but then finished by saying I implied some sort of bias in my question. Is this because of the order of the items?
  • Reply 17 of 39
    tenlytenly Posts: 710member
    Apple found it "economically advantageous" to go another direction?  Well, damn!  Wouldn't it be stupid not to?  I'm sure that Apple investigated the technology as can be seen by the downloads of the white papers.  I'll bet they gave real consideration to licensing the technology as-is from Valencell but during the course of their investigation and/or negotiation they found that it was either too expensive or not up to the standards that Apple was looking for - at which point they made the decision to develop their own technology.  If they were aware of the patents at the time this was being developed, they most likely found a way to work around them.  If they were not aware of them - there's a chance that they they may be inadvertently infringing - in which case they will have to try and get the patents negated or pay a licensing fee.

    Whats wrong with all that?  Nothing!  It sounds to me like it was a good business decision and Apple acted in good faith throughout the process but at the end of the day Valencell wanted too much $ or were not able to supply what Apple wanted.  I don't think there was anything unethical about Apples behavior as they explored their options.
  • Reply 18 of 39
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member

    lkrupp said:
    So Apple is guilty by accusation alone? Are you assuming Apple is guilty? Why?
    Your first question you infer I have stated Apple is guilty.
    Your second question you ask if I'm assuming Apple is guilty, despite having already proffered a rebuttal that infers that I think Apple is guilty
    Your third question doesn't use a qualifier like, "If so, … ," but instead just asks "Why?," which is now asking for my reasons for believing Apple is guilty, despite my lack of implication.

    I think it's a legitimate question. Not that offered the two opposing, general answers, as well as asked about companies, not Apple. I feel Apple holds themselves to a higher standard than other companies, but my opinion of Apple (or inefficient information regarding this lawsuit to be able to create a specific option for or against Apple), does mean I think Apple should be held to a different standard than any other company. Most interesting are that all replies to my query assumed I felt Apple was guilty. Did any of you even consider that I might think that those filing a lawsuit may be acting unethically?

    For how many years have we been reading each other's comments on this board and Slack? Over a decade, I believe. If I had to come to such a conclusion don't you think I'd 1) state it as a statement, and 2) back up my statement with how I arrived at my opinion, likely with additional details or links other sites to support my position? I'm pretty sure I would.
    edited January 2016 muppetry
  • Reply 19 of 39
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    If this company cannot produce a non-compete agreement or evidence of a violated NDA, they're spitting into the wind.
    edited January 2016
  • Reply 20 of 39
    hmmhmm Posts: 3,405member
    jfc1138 said:
    Suing over information openly available off a publicly accessible website?

    That part, at least, seems dubious.


    ETA: I suppose the litigation will further illuminate the issue as at the moment there's just the one side and taking everything one side says as truth is often the path to error.
    It depends whether something is patented. If it's patented, it's already in the public domain. You can find the patents online. You could be sued if you create something that may overlap with some of its claims. The parts about downloading white papers and other things are supporting evidence, not the claims themselves.
    If this company cannot produce a non-compete agreement or evidence of a violated NDA, they're spitting into the wind.
    I'm skeptical that it would be either accepted or useful against a company the size of Apple.
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