Fitbit reaching out to NHS–but new smartwatch ‘a giant mess’ (updated)

There have been sketchy reports of Fitbit’s CEO James Park meeting with the NHS last month to get Fitbits into the ‘big moves’ in wearables and apps promised by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Mr. Park’s interview with the Sunday Times (limited access) indicated that Fitbit’s NHS project, should it happen, would be for exercise and activity monitoring, similar to the partnership with UnitedHealthcare which reduces premiums based on policyholder exercise monitoring. This move towards payers is in line with reports starting last year of Fitbit’s seeking clinical markets and moving away from the fickle B2C market. City AM

click to enlargeGiven this week’s leak/reveal and scuttlebutt on the new Fitbit smartwatch, Mr. Park needs to gin up a big payer, quickly. The advance buzz is not positive nor kind. It’s delayed from spring to end of year–in competition with the latest iteration of the Apple Watch. This advance photo of codenamed ‘Higgs’ from Yahoo!Finance indicates a certain clunkiness (and derivation from the panned semi-smartwatch Blaze). It’s pricey, rumored to be priced at around $300. Features include a 1,000nit, built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, contactless payments, Pandora and four days of battery life along with connectivity to new Bluetooth headphones. Yet TechCrunch notes “complaints about design, production delays, antenna issues and software problems.” in what they dub “a giant mess”. Forbes notes problems in waterproofing and GPS signal. There are other Android-based smartwatches that do the same for the same price or less. Will this save Fitbit? To be determined….

Update: CEO Park denies delays in the new smartwatch, saying “all new product introductions are on track”, but then again–it hasn’t been officially announced! On the earnings call Thursday, Fitbit stated that new products are now accounting for 84 percent of 1stQ revenue. The company also reported better-than-expected earnings for the first quarter of 2017, reporting an adjusted loss of 15 cents per share on revenue of $299 million. Full year projected at $1.5 – 1.7 bn. Marketwatch, The Verge

A stride ahead in gait analysis for detecting potential health issues

click to enlargeReaders experienced in senior healthcare know that changes in gait can be predictors or a proxy for negative change in physical or mental status, for instance when walking becomes slow or unsteady and the risk of falling rises. We’re familiar with various remote monitoring approaches such as pads, sensor arrays, camera systems such as the VICON tracker, worn sensors, and Fitbits but none so far have proven workable, widespread, or particularly accurate. A research group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have designed a system using wireless signals which can measure the walking speed of multiple people with 95 to 99 percent accuracy, the same as clinical measurement and VICON. The WiGait device is the size of a small painting and emits signals at about the level of a smartphone. It analyzes reflected signals off the body and can differentiate through algorithms the type of movement, e.g. walking versus brushing teeth. It can also gauge stride length, since changes in that may indicate progression in diseases such as Parkinson’s. Since the WiGait can be used for longitudinal tracking, gait changes can be further correlated with disease state with the intent of avoiding hospitalization. The researchers built off of previous work on WiTrack, which used signals to track behaviors from breathing and falling to specific emotions.  MIT NewsPaper: Extracting Gait Velocity and Stride Length from Surrounding Radio Signals

Q1 digital health investment: two perspectives from StartUp Health and Rock Health

StartUp Health’s and Rock Health’s investment/M&A roundups from Q1 2017 have just hit the deck. Before we dig into them, let’s start with the differences in methodology:

  • Rock Health tracks deals only over $2 million in value; StartUp Health seems to have no minimum or maximum; the latter includes early stage deals at a lower value.
  • StartUp Health gathers in international deals at all levels, whereas Rock Health includes only US-funded ventures.
  • Rock Health omits healthcare services companies (citing Forward, Oscar), biotech/diagnostic companies (GRAIL, Theranos), and software companies not solely focused on healthcare (Zenefits)
  • StartUp Health defines ‘digital health’ differently than Rock Health, with categories of ‘patient/consumer experience’, ‘wellness’, ‘personalized health/quantified self’, and ‘research’

StartUp Health is ‘over the moon’, breathlessly (appropriately as the home of the 25-year Health Moonshot) with Q1 trending, seeing the biggest investment quarter since 2010 at $2.5 bn. Topping up this number was GRAIL, which is developing a blood test for early cancer detection, with a massive Series B at $914 million. Far behind it in the $85-110 million range were (in descending order) Alignment Healthcare (population health), PatientsLikeMe (patient/consumer experience), Nuna (big data/analytics), and PointClickCare (EHR). Population health, patient/consumer experience, and research top their investment activity. Most deals are still seed and Series A (59 percent), but that is down five points from full year 2016; Series B’s share is up three points to 25 percent. But it remains a difficult bridge to cross to C+ rounds.

Rock Health splits the difference and calls it ‘business as usual’, surprised that there hasn’t been a tailspin. Its Q1 sandwiches between 2016 and 2015, well above 2015 but trending 23 percent below Q1 2016. Their biggest deals include the aforementioned Alignment, PatientsLikeMe and Nuna, omitting GRAIL and PointClickCare. Their top three investment categories are analytics/big data, care coordination, and telemedicine (over $50 million). Rock Health tracked almost 20 M&A, noting that many transactions are now ex-California. They also uniquely track public company performance. Here in 2016 is where Readers first noted weakness in NantHealth, but Fitbit and Castlight Health also had miserable quarters. Teladoc, Evolent Health (consulting), and Care.com had a good winter as well. Let’s see what Q2 brings.

Jawbone gets its day in California Superior Court versus Fitbit

It looks like the long-running Jawbone v. Fitbit trade secrets show will continue in California Superior Court. Judge Richard Ulmer on Friday (24 Mar) in San Francisco ruled that the scope of the Jawbone-initiated lawsuit, charging that Fitbit and five former Jawbone employees stole trade secrets, was far larger than the dismissal handed down last October by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) in Washington, DC, rejecting Fitbit’s claim. To Bloomberg Technology, a Jawbone spokesperson crowed, “We look forward now to focusing on presenting our case to a California jury, which will not be bound by the strict procedural limitations that we faced in the ITC. We will push the case to trial as quickly as possible and are confident that justice will be done.” Fitbit is expected to appeal, but this is not good news for them if this drags out–their share price is down 72 percent from a year ago (Marketwatch)–and threatens their IP which is key to a pivot to the clinical monitoring market.

A sidebar to this is Business Insider’s recent report that one of Jawbone’s law firms, Susman Godfrey LLP, has withdrawn from three pending cases citing ‘professional considerations’, remaining on two. This Editor cannot confirm whether Susman Godfrey is representing Jawbone in the above case, as Plainsite records indicate that Skadden Arps is their counsel. The California courts website has not been updated for the case (Aliphcom Inc. v. Fitbit Inc., CGC15-546004). Previous TTA coverage 9 Feb.

Wearables: it’s a journey, but is it really necessary?

click to enlargeIncreasingly, not in the opinion of many. We’ve covered earlier [TTA 21 Dec, 6 Feb] the wearables ‘bust’ and consumer disenchantment affecting fitness-oriented wearables. While projections are still $19 bn by 2018 (Juniper Research), Jawbone is nearly out of business with one last stab at the clinical segment, with Fitbit missing its 2016 earnings targets–and planning to target the same segment. So this Washington Post article on a glam presentation at SXSW of a Google/Levi’s smart jeans jacket for those who bicycle to work (‘bike’ and ‘bikers’ connote Leather ‘n’ Harleys). It will enable wearers to take phone calls, get directions and check the time by tapping and swiping their sleeves, with audio information delivered via headphone. As with every wearable blouse, muumuu, and toque she’s seen, this Editor’s skepticism is fueled by the fact that the cyclist depicted has to raise at least one hand to tap/swipe said sleeves and to wear headphones. He is also sans helmet on a street, not even a bike path or country lane. All are safety Bad Doo-Bees. Yes, the jacket is washable as the two-day power source is removable. But while it’s supposed to hit the market by Fall, the cost estimate is missing. A significant ‘who needs it?’ factor.

Remember the Quantified Selfer’s fascination with sleep tracking and all those sleep-specific devices that went away, taking their investors’ millions with them? Fitbit and many smartwatches work with apps to give the wearer feedback on their sleep hygiene, but the devices and apps themselves can deliver faulty information. This is according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine called “Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?” (abstract) by Kelly Glazer Baron, MD with researchers from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “The patients’ inferred correlation between sleep tracker data and daytime fatigue may become a perfectionistic quest for the ideal sleep in order to optimize daytime function. To the patients, sleep tracker data often feels more consistent with their experience of sleep than validated techniques, such as polysomnography or actigraphy.” (more…)

Jawbone still in business–with Fitbit in court

While most industry observers are perceiving Jawbone’s abandoning the consumer fitness tracker market, repositioning into the clinical B2B2C vitals market, and seeking fresh financing as a last-ditch effort to save the company, Jawbone continues to be highly active in one place–court. Last week, Jawbone filed a lawsuit against Fitbit and five former employees in California state court for theft of trade secrets and has rebutted Fitbit’s motion to dismiss in a 27-page filing. According to Fortune’s account of the lawsuit, Jawbone’s filing states: “Each of the defendants has been, for more than five months, the subject of a criminal grand jury investigation regarding theft of Jawbone’s trade secrets that is being conducted by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security,” a charge that Fitbit calls ‘fictional’ and false. The court hearing in San Francisco is 15 February.

The legal skirmishing, which largely has gone Fitbit’s way [TTA 27 July] in the US International Trade Commission, indicates that Jawbone is still spending money to protect what is left of value in the company–its patents and intellectual property (whatever hasn’t been voided). Jawbone $100 million ‘gem’: the BodyMedia patents acquired in 2013 [TTA 30 Apr 13]. BodyMedia had FDA Class II clearance but a clunky form factor. This IP is a critical save if they want to go clinical. Fitbit’s shares continue to go down, an indicator that the mud is rising. Also Bloomberg with video.

Jawbone out of the consumer fitness tracker business, going to clinical model, raising funds: report

Confirming reports from various sources last year [TTA 21 Dec] and prior (July) is a report in TechCrunch confirming what we already guessed: Jawbone is out of the consumer fitness tracker market, is aiming at a B2B2C market of health providers, and needs to raise a lot more money.

Key points in the article:

  • It intends to market a “health product and accompanying set of services sold primarily to clinicians and health providers working with patients”
  • It’s seeking additional funding from investors. TechCrunch‘s sources claim that is at an advanced stage, but no closings as of yet.

We noted in December that research/analytics company CB Insights calculated that 2015 wearable computing (a broader category that includes smartwatches) investment funding fell 63 percent from 2014 to a level comparable to 2012-13, in large part due to the cooling of the fitness segment. TechCrunch’s end of year report from eMarketer and other sources also noted that 2016 sales growth of the wearables sector, forecast at 60 percent, only achieved 25 percent growth and will be equally weak in 2017. Lack of demand, lack of loyalty (most fitness bands are discarded after 3-6 months), unreliable (TechCrunch makes much of customer displeasure), their looks and generally useless (in a clinical sense) data and the greater versatility (and appearance) of smartwatches for those who want them, are all factors. There’s a disenchantment here (‘who needs ’em?’) that mass marketing can’t overcome.

It is worthwhile reflecting that Jawbone, which started off in 1997 as an audio technology company, has burned through over $980 million in 14 funding rounds, generously provided by various VC luminaries of Silicon Valley. (One wonders how much equity is even left in the company, a la ‘The Producers’) (more…)

Was 2016 a great or off year for digital health funding, M&A, IPOs? (updated)

It depends on the study you read and how jaundiced your view is. If you believe the StartUp Health Insights 2016 ‘Health Moonshots’ report, 2016 digital health funding has hit a zenith of $8.18 bn (up 38 percent from 2015), with 500 companies enjoying funding from over 900 individual investors. Yet over at fellow funder Rock Health, the forecast is far more circumspect. They tracked only half the funding–$4.2 bn in funding–with 296 deals and 451 investors, down from the $4.6 bn over 276 deals in 2015.

There are significant differences in methodology. Rock Health tracks deals only over $2 million in value, while StartUp Health seems to have no minimum or maximum; the latter includes early stage deals at a lower value (their cross-section of ~$1 million deals has 15). StartUp Health gathers in international deals at all levels (pages 11-12),  whereas Rock Health only includes US-funded ventures. Another observation is that StartUp Health defines ‘digital health’ differently than Rock Health, most notably in ‘patient/consumer experience’, ‘wellness’ and ‘personalized health’. This can be seen by comparing their top 10 categories and total funding: (more…)

Health execs’ wish list for 2017: security, analytics, pop health…and telehealth (US)

click to enlargeHealthcare IT News published the results of their October survey of 95 healthcare executives as to their forward plans (resolutions?) for 2017. It’s unsurprisingly centered on upgrades to the following areas:

  • Data security (52 percent)–definitely making up for lost time and spending due to the obvious threats from hacking and data breaches. In November alone, nearly two incidents a day (57) and over 458,000 records were reported by healthcare entities to HHS. (Protenus Breach Barometer)
  • Data analytics (51 percent)–figuring out what to do with all that patient data generated by….
  • Patient engagement and population health (44 percent each)–demanded by quality standards in CMS’ MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP), including the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs)
click to enlargeThe surprises come here–the technologies they expect to introduce or investigate. Analytics and workflow correspond to the last two points above, but what is compelling is an apparent tipping point for technology which links the patient to care monitoring and access: telehealth (44 percent), smart medical devices (41 percent) and remote patient monitoring (34 percent). These overlap (as in telehealth and RPM require smart medical devices), yet these are strong numbers if they accurately reflect these execs’ actual (or eventual) spending. (Does it point to more clinically validated use of trackers like Fitbit? The Magic 8 Ball does not tell here….)

The presence of 2016-17’s ‘It Girl’, precision medicine (21 percent), which applies both data analytics and genomics to improve patient outcomes, isn’t surprising with the emphasis on quality care.

One can quibble that the sample size is small N, and the report doesn’t confirm the selection details like title, location, and type of organization, but the direction has to be cheering on many fronts. HITN’s overview, survey results (16 slides)

Fitbit, Qualcomm Life get in step with UnitedHealthcare’s Motion

click to enlargeAnother step towards maturity in the fitness tracker and employee wellness business? Today’s news out of CES was the announcement by Qualcomm Life and UnitedHealthcare to expand the proprietary UHC employee wellness program, Motion. Qualcomm Life’s 2net is the platform that will eventually integrate with medical-grade connectivity multiple fitness trackers. The first will be Fitbit’s Charge 2.

The Motion program was tested in 12 states with select employers. It will expand to UnitedHealthcare’s self-funded employer health plans covering five or more eligible employees, plus companies with fully insured health plans with 101 or more eligible employees, in 40 states.

Employee incentives are up to $1,500 per year or $4 per day, but requirements are strict, based on Frequency, Intensity and Tenacity, or FIT.  The frequency requirement is six times per day with 300 steps within five minutes at least one hour apart; intensity of 3,000 steps within 30 minutes and tenacity of 10,000 total steps each day. The employers receive premium savings based on combined FIT results. Infographic above and left.

Through a Gimlet Eye…It gives a head start to Fitbit in a BYOD program, and a testing platform for a more clinical use of a new tracker, moving beyond the casual athlete who discards it in a few months and another sign confirming our 2017 View. For Qualcomm Life, it’s yet another pivot to stay in the Healthcare Game as apparently, their much-touted HealthyCircles care coordination platform has faded to black. For UHC, it’s a value-add for employers to sell a health plan. But employee wellness programs have yet to prove real health outcomes and real savings. The problem with all wellness programs, especially at the ‘frequency and intensity’ that UHC wants employees to achieve before they earn anything, is that they concentrate on making the well weller. How would it help the marginally fit or heaven forbid, those trying to regain their fitness with a chronic condition? One last point for employers: to get FIT, it involves a lot of employee time away from a desk or a station! ZDNet, UHC/Qualcomm release

Another bit(e) from Fitbit: Quietly at the end of year, Fitbit moved to terminate one of its multiple patent infringement-related suits against the now moribund Jawbone. (more…)

Seeing into 2017: Fitness trackers’ chill, clinical and specialized wearables warm up

click to enlargeThe first in a series of brief projections for 2017. Fitness wearables aren’t even lukewarm anymore, and it’s visible in consolidation and the nay-saying articles. In late November, Fitbit bought one of the pioneers, Pebble, for a cut price of $40 million (TechCrunch). Fitbit shares are also cut price at below $7.50, whereas the 2015 IPO debuted at $50. Editor Charles’ favorite, Jawbone, is moribund; the springtime rumors of company sale and shutdown of the fitness band line have not been contradicted since [TTA 27 July]. Research/analytics company CB Insights calculated that 2015 wearable computing (a broader category) investment funding fell 63 percent from 2014 to a level comparable to 2012-13, in large part due to the cooling of the fitness segment.

A sure sign that fitness bands have chilled is negative play in the consumer press. ‘My fitness band has made me fat’, spun off the JAMA article [TTA 28 Sep], is now the theme of hilarious ‘dieters gone wild’ articles like this from the New York Post (warning, eye bleach photos!). But The Sun (UK) waves a warning flag that the information could be sold, sent to your employer or insurance company to profile and/or discriminate against you, or cyberhacked. All this can knock a pricey band off the Christmas shopping list. And no, it hasn’t shifted to smartwatches as most insiders predicted, as smartwatch sales have leveled off–as expected–until their functionality and appearance improve to justify their high price.

What’s in our crystal ball? Clinical-quality and specialized wearables will rise from these ashes.

  • Doctors are simply not interested in the current poor quality of data generated by current wearables–‘it’s worthless, Jim!’ ZDNet’s much-discussed article on this subject paradoxically stresses this, then focuses in on the clinical quality data generated by startup VivaLnk’s eSkin for temperature and stress. Clinical quality data is what is required for a health and wellness research partnership like the one recently announced by RTI and Validic.
  • Industry buzz is that Fitbit bought Pebble for its better IP, apps and stable of developers, not its smartwatch hardware, and that IP includes clinical quality measurement.  Other biosensor companies on the rise according to CB Insights are Thync, Thalmic Labs, YBrain and mCube.
  • In specialty wearables, there’s the recent funding success of Owlet, the High Cute Factor baby monitor sock. Lifebeam transfers multiple sensing technology to helmets and hats for richer data.

And if sensor patches develop with speed, in two to three years they may eliminate all of these!

TTA’s Friday roundup of interesting articles, updates and weekend reads

Fitbit may succeed in blocking Jawbone from selling in US? The Jawbone wins [TTA 27 July] in the US International Trade Commission court was apparently reversed due to a judge’s error for two Fitbit patents, and this may open the way for Fitbit to further block Jawbone. An additional California court action on infringement and misappropriation on trade secrets by Jawbone is headed for court in 2017. Mobihealthnews…..Maybe texting is enough? Dr Joseph Kvedar seems to think so for simple medication adherence and reminders, with reasons like the easy scaling of text messaging in EHRs, but prefers installing an app to deliver them due to the downsides of plain text messaging such as HIPAA and security. Thus we return to the logic of the desktop unit days (e.g. Health Buddy, Viterion) but delivered via smartphone. CHealthBlog….550 US primary care docs say no reimbursement, no telehealth (actually telemedicine). Usage in the past year was a scant 15 percent, with higher usage in Federally designated ‘safety net’ clinics (FQHCs) and HMOs versus PCMHs and ACOs where reimbursement by Medicare, Medicaid and private payers is far chancier. The survey was conducted by their association, the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP). mHealthIntelligence….iHealth Andon Group buys France’s eDevice for $106 million. The aim seems to be integration of eDevice’s backend infrastructure to iHealth’s RPM devices. Mobihealthnews….A analysis of what went wrong at HealthSpot is in the new publication Telehealth & Medicine Today. A summary is that they had a business model that started out on point quite a while ago (2010) but then competitors and fresh technology ate their lunch (Editor’s term). They didn’t pivot to fit, moved too slowly and were overly wedded to their business model. A big problem was scaling costly kiosks and not finding the right places for them. While initially impressive, there was something all too elephantine about HealthSpot from the start. Our Readers interested in a Trip Down Memory Lane may read our collection of articles from 2013 here which pointed out most of the above….In the industry moves department, Peter Radsliff, whom this Editor worked with briefly on AgeTek-The Aging Technology Alliance (apparently defunct), has joined Arrayent, an IoT developer, as VP Marketing. Now that tells us something! Congrats to Peter!

And finally for a good long, but not light, read, this article in The Atlantic will give you a chilling glimpse of front-line medicine attempting to heal the carnage in Syria, using WhatsApp, texts and the simplest forms of telemedicine. A dedicated group of primarily Syrian-American doctors on a WhatsApp volunteer group called Madaya Medical Consultants uses it to perform consults with the minimal medical resources available in Syria. And yes, they know what Aleppo is.

A review of digital health patent slugfests and Unintended Consequences

Mobihealthnews provides a recap of the past four years of patent actions pitting company against company in the hushed but deadly rings of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the US International Trade Commission. On the fight card: the never-ending American Well-Teladoc bout (Teladoc winning every decision so far by a knockout [TTA 18 June]–a second American Well patent being invalidated on 25 August); CardioNet vs MedTel, which the former won but has had to chase the latter out of the arena and down the street to collect; Fitbit-Jawbone which has gone both ways [TTA 27 July]; and the long trail of blood, sweat and Unintended Consequences around Bosch Healthcare’s heavyweight IP pursuit against mainly flyweight early-stage companies (not noting, as we did, their apparent ‘draws’ vs Philips and Viterion, then owned by Bayer).

The Reader will note our tracking Bosch’s activities go back to 2012 (here, here and here). Moreover, with Mr Tim Rowan of Home Care Technology, we broke the news of Bosch’s demise in June 2015, drawing the conclusion that their offense versus Cardiocom’s patents (now in Medtronic’s cardiac division) directly led to the invalidation of their key patents, IP–and the very basis of the company’s existence. See the 19 June 2015 article and our recap one year later in reviewing AW-Teladoc. (Any similar phrasing or conclusions within the Mobihealthnews article, we will leave to our Readers to decide!)

Summertime, and the health data breaches are easy….

click to enlargeCybersecurity is the word, not the bird, from South Korea (see here) to the US.  The week opened with an unusual healthcare plan supplier breach: 3.3 million payer records held by a card issuer, Newkirk Products of Albany, NY. The company issues ID cards for several Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans and provides management services to other commercial payers. Ironically, it was discovered five days after their $410 million acquisition by Broadridge Financial Solutions of Lake Success, Long Island. On July 6, Newkirk discovered ‘unauthorized access’ to a server with records containing the member’s name, mailing address, type of plan, member and group ID number, names of dependents enrolled in the plan, primary care provider, and in some cases, date of birth, premium invoice information and Medicaid ID number. “No health plans’ systems were accessed or affected in any way” according to the release. MedCityNews, Newkirk release on notice

Another supplier breach affected another estimated 3.7 million patients at Arizona’s Banner Health. This one was a bit closer to home, hacking computer systems used in payment processing on debit and credit cards used at their food and beverage outlets in four states between June 23 and July 7.  A week later, the hackers gained unauthorized access to systems containing patient information, health plan member and beneficiary information, as well as information about physician and healthcare providers. MedCityNews, Banner Health release

But what’s secret anymore about your health data anyway? It’s all those apps that are sending data via your Apple Watch and your Fitbit which aren’t necessarily covered by HIPAA or secure. (more…)

Philips dives into global consumer health tech with new wearables ‘ecosystem’

Philips has made another substantial, if traditionally risky, move into the direct to consumer (DTC) health monitoring segment with a limited wearables ‘ecosystem’ under a new Personal Health Solutions division. It contains five FDA-cleared products for monitoring vital signs. Four peripherals download via a watch to iPhone/Android phone apps which run on version 2.0 of the Philips HealthSuite (with Salesforce1) mobile app. Earlier the apps were marketed in NL and BE.

While the release states they are globally available, initially it appears they are being marketed direct to consumer for the US only. Purchase is direct on the site. All devices are Bluetooth LE and sync with the watch and smartphone app/dashboard (available on Google Play and the Apple Store). The watch/app also tracks exercise with activity recognition, calorie tracking and sleep patterning, with the app providing some education content.

  • Watch $249
  • Body Analysis Scale (weight, body fat, BMI) $100
  • BP/pulse (upper arm) $100, (wrist) $90
  • Ear Thermometer $60

Interestingly, their existing DTC PERS enterprise, Lifeline, is not linked to or mentioned.

Prices are mid-range to high, making this a prima facie tough sell. (more…)

Jawbone bites back: Fitbit loses three patents (updated)

The wearables war continues, and the Law of Unintended Consequences seems unbreakable. This one was decided in a US International Trade Commission court, with the judge ruling that the three patents in question “don’t cover ideas eligible for protection” and dismissed the August trial between Fitbit and Jawbone. This is a reversal of fortune for the two competitors as a similar patent challenge to Jawbone was won by Fitbit back in April in the same court. In the new ruling, the judge said that Fitbit “seek(s) a monopoly on the abstract ideas of collecting and monitoring sleep and other health-related data.”

The skirmishing has a deeper context. Jawbone has accused Fitbit of hiring former employees and purloining trade secrets like product design and marketing plans, and alleges that the suits were “brought improperly by Fitbit in an attempt to burden Jawbone with having to defend invalid patents in multiple venues.” Fitbit reportedly has 300 patents, so that is a lot of defending for a company that has issues of its own.  Jawbone has struggled in past months with its products, with various (and contradictory) reports indicating it’s exiting the wearable business, working on a new wearable and selling its audio business (which has also been crushed by competition.) Undoubtedly this will continue as Fitbit plans to challenge the ruling. Your Editor suspects that their legal and IP offense/defense activity is a substantial budget line for them. Bloomberg (20 July and April), The Verge

Update: Jawbone is rumored to be up for sale, with reports that they have approached at least one hardware manufacturer about a purchase. Reportedly they missed an August payment to a business partner. Investor BlackRock has marked down their shares, formerly valued at $5.97 a share, to less than a single penny. Since 1999, Jawbone has had funding of over $900 million.  9to5Mac, The Verge  Even the much-publicized hiring of high-profile exec Adam Pellegrini from Walgreens to Fitbit to lead digital health has a Jawbone twist, as both the former and latter were partners. MedCityNews