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

‘VC tourism’ in Health Tech Land is over (updated)

The ‘silly money’ is packing its bags and taking the next flight from the Coast. An exceedingly tart take out of Fast Company confirms what your Editors have noticed in Rock Health and other year-end reports. Funding for digital health may have surpassed $4.2 billion in 2015, but it barely eked over 2014’s total of $2.3 billion despite rising geometrically since 2011 [TTA 16 Dec 15, revised by Rock Health since then]. Since then, we’ve had the Trouble Every Day of ‘unicorns’ (overreaching) Theranos and (ludicrously) Zenefits [TTA 17 Feb]; EHR Practice Fusion stalled out and cutting 25 percent of its staff, hoping to be acquired by athenahealth–or anyone (Healthcare Dive); shaky Fitbit shares [TTA 20 Feb]. Perhaps the high point was last year’s ‘Corvette Summer’ with yet another big round to a company yet to fulfill its promise, ZocDoc [TTA 15 Aug 15]. Even Castlight Health with decent revenue (still at a loss) has been dubbed an ‘absolute horror show’ when it comes to its share prices, if you were foolish enough to buy it at or near its IPO.

Fortunately a large dose of sanity may prevail among VCs with a sobering realization–no different than five or ten years ago–that investment has to be strategic and far longer than the usual 18 month-and-out time frame. Too many companies have systems which work the same niche–you don’t need 50 companies doing these things: data analytics for care management, patient engagement platforms, med reminders or diabetes management. [We’ve already noted the ‘sameness’ in companies getting funded in 2015, almost as if investors were seeking reassurance in similarity, a sure sign of a coming fail–TTA 30 Dec 15.]

Developers must fill a need–uniquely. And have a superb business plan, squeeze the nickels till they squeak and forget about the party culture. Investors: Dumb Money For Digital Health Will Vanish As Quickly As It Came In

 

If Silicon Valley were a rose, it would be wilting

Does this signal a new ‘trough of disillusionment’? The lead in this story is one of the major practice EHRs in the US–Practice Fusion. From a high valuation in 2013 of $635 million as a healthcare darling (free to doctors, ad supported), it burned through $4 million cash per month while revenue missed targets by 10 percent, chased after rainbows such as telemedicine, overhired, overperked and overpartied in the office. Now with a quarter of their staff pink-slipped, a new CEO is trying to bail them out. Most of the other examples aren’t healthcare, but huge deals by VCs are slowing, companies are discounting the price of their shares, taking on debt to not dilute shares, laying off employees and subletting their space. Adding to this is the glut in wearables and a slowdown in demand for single-purpose devices, leading to a 20 percent loss today in value in shares of Fitbit (MarketWatch). Like the ‘oil patch’ in the upper Midwest, the San Francisco area is feeling the chill that never really left the rest of the country. And ‘unicorns’ may become an endangered species. Wall Street Journal

Fitness trackers, mobile apps shown to leak sensitive data

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/band1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]An unnerving 35-page report published by Canadian nonprofit OpenEffect, assisted by the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, claims that leading fitness trackers and their corresponding mobile apps are veritable sieves of personal data, inviting security breaches. Where Hackermania Runs Wild starts with lack of Bluetooth LE privacy, allowing tracking via Bluetooth even when the tracker isn’t paired to a smartphone. Then many of the companion apps leaked login credentials, transmitted activity tracking information in a way that allowed interception or tampering, or allowed users (or others) to insert false activity tracking information. The trackers studied were the Basis Peak, Fitbit Charge HR, Garmin Vivosmart, Jawbone Up 2, Mio Fuse, Withings Pulse O2 and Xiaomi Mi Band. Notably the Apple Watch 2.0 was secure.  The full report is titled dramatically “Every Step you Fake: A Comparative Analysis of Fitness Tracker Privacy and Security”. Security article, study in PDF, TheStar.com. Hat tip once again to Toni Bunting, former Northern Ireland Contributing Editor. 

The rich store of information in…human sweat

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/sweat-sensor-wristband450.jpg” thumb_width=”200″ /]’Don’t sweat it’ may in future be the wrong thing to say. University of California-Berkeley researchers have developed a prototype sensor array on a band that successfully captures readings of multiple sweat analytes and sends the information to a smartphone app for analysis, making it the first device capable of continuous, non-invasive monitoring of multiple biochemicals in perspiration. The five sensors measure metabolites glucose and lactate, the electrolytes sodium and potassium, and skin temperature, which serves to calibrate the other readings in real time. The device (left), which can be in a wristband or headband form, also contains a flexible printed circuit board that amplifies the sensor signals and sends them to the smartphone app. The Berkeley researchers look forward to commercializing the technology to capture more analyte readings, for athletic performance, medical and fitness tracking usage–and in the longer-term, population-level studies for medical applications. We wonder how long it will be before these show up in a new model Misfit, Jawbone or Fitbit. Berkeley News   Hat tip to former TTA Ireland Editor Toni Bunting

Better’s fast fail, ending health assistance service 30 Oct

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Better.png” thumb_width=”150″ /]Better is sadly not. This two-year old service that provided personal health assistance, including a real, live health assistant, to guide members through health questions, the thickets of insurance claims, finding doctors and specialists, apps and more, announced earlier this week that it was ending operations as of 30 October. While it was announced via their Twitter feed on Tuesday, most of the industry learned of it through Stephanie Baum’s article in MedCityNews today. Better formally debuted only 16 months ago [TTA 23 Apr 14] and at the time this Editor felt that it was a service in the right direction, a kind of ‘concierge medicine for the masses’ needed when individuals have to direct more and more of their own care.

A solid start, as our Readers have seen, does not guarantee success, but this fast fail is still fairly shocking. A concern at the time was the pricing for the full service model at $49/month, which later became the family price (individuals were $19.99/month). CEO/co-founder Geoff Clapp was among the most Grizzled of Health Tech Pioneers; he had been a co-founder of Health Hero/Health Buddy from 1998 to its sale to Bosch Healthcare, a very long pull in telehealth, and he had spent much of his post-Health Hero time generously advising other startups. Yet despite the involvement of blue chip Mayo Clinic as a service provider, its financial backing from their investment arm and socially-oriented VC Social+Capital Partnership, it managed to raise only its initial seed funding of $5 million (CrunchBase).

So what happened? (more…)

Is the fitness tracker eventually going to lose to the smartwatch? (Updated)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/LG-Urbane.png” thumb_width=”150″ /][grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/fitbit-charge.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Which one would you prefer? 

The interest in fitness bands has quantifiably and substantially diminished since January, according to Argus Insights’ survey of online consumer reviews (!)–and since the debut of Apple Watch. And while Fitbit maintains its leadership in the band category (sorry Jawbone, though Editor Charles won’t be), the rising preference is for smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Android wear such as the Moto 360 and the LG Watch Urbane (pictured). While there’s a substantial price difference between smartwatches (~$350 versus under $150), and both Apple Watch and LG’s watches (versus LG bands) have limited fitness capability, there’s few new developments in fitness bands to create excitement. There have been enough problems with fitness band reliability, breakage, rising prices and a boredom with design to diminish interest while new brands enter the market, and smartwatch prices come down slightly. For the price, users also want more out of their watches. Neil Versel in MedCityNews.

Updated: Apple Watch, with 3.6 million units sold in 2nd quarter was immediately behind Fitbit with 4.4 million, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker. 2 of every 3 smart wearables (capable of running third-party apps) was an Apple Watch. Another sign of the coming divide between fitness bands (which will be sold on price and fitness focus) and smartwatches (which will be sold on versatility as well as fitness justifying the higher price).  IDC release

Also by Mr Versel is a memorial to telemedicine pioneer  Dr ‘Red’ Duke. As a surgical resident at Parkland Hospital, he was on the team which saved the life of Texas Governor John Connally, shot with President John Kennedy in November 1963.

Is wearable IoT really necessary–and dangerous to your privacy?

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/is-your-journey-neccessary_.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]But does the average person even care? This Editor senses a groundswell of concern among HIT and health tech regarding the highly touted Internet of Things (IoT) and the dangers it might present. Our previous article reviewed the possibilities of hacking, system vulnerabilities in IoT networks and software bugs ‘bricking’ everyday objects such as refrigerators and cars. But what about wearables and the unimaginable amount of data they generate? Is it as unidentifiable as wearables makers claim? Columbia University computer science student Matthew Piccolella focuses in his article on healthcare ‘things’, primarily fitness trackers like Editor Charles’ favorite, Jawbone, but also clothing and even headsets that measure brain waves (Imec). Their volumes of data are changing the definition of healthcare privacy, which in the US has been synonymous with HIPAA. The problem is that health metadata are increasingly identifiable in a ‘big data’ world. (more…)

Rock Health’s mid-year report: 2015 investment leveling off

Rock Health‘s 2015 report is revealing in one aspect–that the authors try to put a game face on what is a flat situation in digital health investment for first half. Not even the most optimistic of the digerati expected a lift of 16 percent as we saw in 2014 versus 2013 [TTA 2 July 14], but the 8.7 percent fall off from 2014’s blistering $2.3 billion to $2.1 billion in 2015 year-to-date was unexpected. StartUp Health’s report indicated a slower start to 2015, though slightly less, so the reports correspond. Digital health still is growing faster than software, biotech and medical device.

Other highlights:

* The top six categories accounted for 50 percent of investment funding: wearables, analytics, consumer engagement, telemedicine, enterprise wellness, EHR/clinical workflow

*  In M&A action, this year’s first half has almost matched 2014’s full year total, but with only 13 percent of the investment. Most are digital health companies acquiring others for small amounts. (more…)

Kickstarting the 1st week of summer: news from all over

No deal yet between insurer giants. Cigna turned down a $53.8 billion bid from Anthem. According to Healthcare Finance, concerns ranged from corporate governance problems, their membership in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the probable chairman’s (from the Anthem side) qualifications and data security (ahem!). Given that Anthem’s 60 million record breach was an inadvertent inside job [TTA 11 Feb], the last is perfectly understandable. But the door appears to be open for the emollient of additional money (to mix a metaphor). Extra: a tart take on this from the WSJ…..Jaguar is looking to increase driving safety by reading your brain waves to detect if you are distracted or daydreaming, via sensors embedded into the steering wheel. It’s based on technology used by NASA and the US bobsled team. They are also working on mood enhancing lighting and a predictive system to speed your interactions with the dashboard to minimize eyes off the road. But will these detect if you feel good to be bad, as their adverts say? Gizmag….The FT gets into digital health via business, profiling startups such as Lyra Health, Genomics England and Heartflow, as well as 23andme and Google X (including the glucose-detecting contact lens we profiled 18 months ago. Hat tips to Eric Topol and David Doherty (mHealth Insight) via Twitter….The NY Times looks at the dark side of ‘senior independence’ with a group of NYC homebound seniors, but other than tut-tutting the desire of older mainly limited income New Yorkers to remain in familiar surroundings, our ‘national celebration of independence’ (!) and not to be institutionalized (their words), the article doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions. And solutions are badly needed for the nearly 2 million over 65 who rarely or never leave their homes, because not all of them will be in assisted living. Hat tip to Joseph Coughlin of MIT AgeLab via Twitter…. But in Australia, they’re exploring ‘future proofing’ and ‘dignity enabling’ homes for an aging population to make them more livable and accessible, via landscaped ramps, larger bathrooms, and sensor rich floors that connect to gait tracking and analysis. Smart Homes 2.0. Sydney Morning Herald…..Neil Versel over at his new MedCityNews stand reports on Doctor On Demand‘s test of tablet-based medical kiosks adjacent to the pharmacy department at four Wegman’s grocery stores here in the Northeast. Is Weis Market far behind?….And Fitbit has a bit part in ‘Law and Order’…well, not the TV show in perpetual reruns, but in a real-life case in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which is not all Amish farms, black carriages and the so-called Amish Mafia. The police used Fitbit activity data to determine that a local resident (and Fitbit wearer), who claimed she was raped by a stranger, staged the crime scene with overturned furniture, a knife, and a bottle of vodka in her home. ABC27 News via David Lee Scher.

Guilt and money: the manipulative side of fitness tracking

Show me the money! The bottom line of fitness apps can now be cash rewards, much like many credit cards. There’s FitCoins that exchange into bitcoins, the digital currency much in the news and recognized by some legitimate (and non legitimate) retailers; Pact which makes you invest in your goals with a pool of others, rewarding you if you make them, deducting from your account if you do not; GOODcoins which rewards you only with ‘positive things’ (no chocolate or anything that contributes to, say, global warming). But after all, you should only bask in the glow of doing GoodThings for yourself, eh? Getting paid to stay fit (Ozy)

But then there’s always guilt. Fitness tracking is on the way of becoming so omnipresent that it becomes a part of you. Beyond the wrist, fitness clothes, implants and digital tattoos or bandages will be tattling (via your smartphone or directly) on your vital signs, activity and weight gain from too much to eat at dinner. On one hand this can be a good thing in shaping behavior. A study by two researchers associated with University College London and Ashfield Business School, Berkhamsted found many positives in Fitbits shaping female wearers’ behaviors, with 76 percent self-reporting healthier eating habits (more…)

Fitbit and Teladoc: big IPOs, big questions

This week’s big news (so far) of Fitbit’s $732 million initial public offering–the largest consumer electronics IPO ever–comes despite the Jawbone IP lawsuits [TTA 11 June]. Count us among those who question this ‘vote of confidence’ as raising unrealistic expectations for health tech by a fitness tracker not truly part of real digital health. Telemedicine provider Teladoc appears headed on the same track with an IPO estimated to come in at $137 million, probably by next week. This generous pricing (~$20/share) comes despite never being profitable in 13 years. Like Fitbit, Teladoc is facing lawsuits from its major competitor American Well on IP [TTA 9 June], with Teladoc asking the US Patent and Trademark Office to review the validity of several American Well patents. Both IPOs are on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). MedCityNews examines Fitbit and Teladoc.

What’s news at the end of the week

Care Innovations harmonizes seniors, Panasonic adds diabetes, Jawbone and Fitbit bite, the first EHR/PHR Hack and Concussion in Cleveland. Converging its interests in remote patient monitoring with its long-time footprint in senior housing resident monitoring (QuietCare), Intel-GE Care Innovations is testing its Health Harmony remote patient monitoring system, partnering with two California-located Front Porch communities and the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. The residents selected have poor chronic condition management or have returned after a discharge from a skilled nursing facility. No disclosure on projected number or duration–and it doesn’t appear that QuietCare is part of the monitoring. Release….Panasonic just bought Bayer Healthcare’s diabetes/blood glucose monitoring device unit for $1.13 billion as Bayer continues to shed non-life science businesses. While old-school prick-and-bleed monitors are being eclipsed by continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) and mobile-based devices such as Telcare in the US and in Europe, there’s plenty of market remaining in the West, and new ones in Asia and the Middle East for simple devices. It joins Panasonic’s existing blood pressure monitors. MedCityNews….Jawbone and Fitbit continue to snap at each other in court, with the former on Wednesday filing a second lawsuit on patent infringement, specifically “a wellness application using data from a data-capable band”, with the added fillip of going to the International Trade Commission, which could ban the import of Fitbit products or component parts. The 28 May lawsuit was about Fitbit’s hiring of five former Jawbone employees who allegedly stole IP. The companies between them have hundreds of patents, and as this Editor has noted in previous IP and patent troll articles, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is not especially rigorous in ensuring that patents are not overbroad. Wonderful for the IP attorneys, but not exactly what Fitbit wants as a runup to their expected IPO next week. Wall Street Journal….Now an EHR and PHR join Hackermania Running Wild. Medical Informatics Engineering reported Tuesday that in May their server was cyberattacked, exposing PHI of patients in five clients and separately information contained in the NoMoreClipboard PHR subsidiary. POLITICO reports that this is the first recorded instance of an EHR compromise. MIE ReleasePOLITICO Morning eHealth….If you are in the Cleveland, Ohio area and have an interest, Concussion: A National Challenge is a free, two-day event on detection and diagnosis sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Metro Health and Taipei Medical University. Advance registration required.

Fitness/wellness trackers have amazing potential–to annoy

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/keep_calm_and_smash_watch.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Your Editors have previously noted some interesting personal experiences with fitness bands/trackers. Editor Charles, at last report, was on his third Jawbone Up in a year; this Editor has remained immune to their mostly clonky charms (tempted by the classic Swiss watch looks of Withings Activité [TTA 26 June 14], put off by the $450 price, but now notes that the sporty, analog Activité Pop is available in the US at $150.) Even if not among the Quantified Self avant-garde, we who write about tech can deal with most of it without blinking too much. Over at FierceMobileHealthcare, Judy Mottl, a regular writer for their FierceHealthIT website, took “the plunge into the wearable device pool” and hit her head on the bottom. Her experience of mostly frustration with the app, bad data generation, inability to sync with the smartphone, saying you’re awake/sleeping when not and so on indicates that this is one wearable she should have returned to the store–or treated according to our picture. Is this one isolated example or a more common experience than the healtherati who adore wearables let on?

There’s some evidence that the leaders in fitness bands realize their shortcomings on the app side. Fitbit acquired fitness coaching app developer, FitStar, for at least $17.8 million. Mobihealthnews

Update 2 April: Editor Charles reports on his third Jawbone Up, and his daughters’ experience:

I took to wearing the third Jawbone UP the other way round – i.e. with the two ends in line with the back of my hand, and the thicker bit in line with the inside of my hand and that seems to have done the trick. However my older daughter (more…)

MWC 2015 Part II – a few companies, some of potential interest

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona does, as the name suggests, cover the whole mobile world. It can come as a disappointment then to find quite how insignificant Health is when compared to items like hardware, payment or even ‘4G backhaul’ (whatever that is). There certainly now seems to be a case for a sparate health stream, as finding the pearls proved very challenging for this reviewer. Relying on the search engine on the site too often revealed a company where too many boxes had been ticked. There was also an alarming number of healthtech ‘no shows’ on the when I reached the country stands of eg Finland, Greece & Italy.

However, there were a few exciting finds. These included:

Coros which are offering incredibly low-priced wearables: washable vests that do HR, respiration, temperature & ECG. If the prices I was quoted by Ethan Wu, Sales Director of a few $10s are good, and the kit works, they’ll be struggling to meet demand.

Dr Security offers an app that enables you to track all the people in your party, call for help, find your mobile device and more. Impressive and I’d have thought most welcome particularly for teachers with school parties or those with really any large outings.

Essence is an Israeli company that has been around for 20 years that offers an activities of daily living (ADL) monitoring service similar to (more…)

Fitbit accurate in measuring energy expenditure: AHA presentation

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/acitivity-trackers_wellocracy_chealth-blog-kvedar.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The current judgment on commercial fitness monitors is that they are worthwhile directionally, but accurate–not so much [TTA 10 May 14]. This may be changing, albeit on a specific, non-clinical measurement. A Columbia University Medical Center (New York, NY) team tested the Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex for tracking energy expenditure during treadmill walking and running exercise, versus energy expenditure assessed by indirect calorimetry, and found themto be valid and reliable devices. Correlation between measurements was 0.95 – 0.97. These devices were interestingly placed on wrists and hips; perhaps a user can enlighten me.  Poster presentation/Abstract MP11 published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation.