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Two years after it accused Apple of copying its heart monitoring technology and putting it into millions of smartwatches, a small company called AliveCor may soon notch a fresh legal victory. But if you’re going to go to war with Apple, you’d better be ready to fight to the death.

The allegations, raised in federal court and before the International Trade Commission, surround technologies AliveCor released in 2017 with the KardiaBand, a high-tech watchband that used the Apple Watch to monitor users for heart conditions. A year later, Apple launched a new version of its smartwatch with similar capabilities. In June, an ITC judge found that the Apple Watch infringes on two patents owned by AliveCor, and the full commission is set to decide by Dec. 12 whether to ban imports of offending Apple Watches into the United States. AliveCor has also filed pending patent infringement and antitrust cases against Apple in federal court.


The case highlights the messy business of taking credit for innovation, in which technologies necessarily build on each other. AliveCor is suing Apple, but its founder and chief medical officer Dave Albert told STAT earlier this year that Apple’s move into heart health “accelerated the acceptance by consumers” of remote heart monitoring technology, validating “a concept that we pioneered.” In early December, Apple went on the offensive and launched a patent infringement case of its own “to set the record straight as to who is the real pioneer,” arguing that “AliveCor has responded to its own failures in the market through opportunistic assertions of its patents against Apple.”

The dispute also underscores just how far health wearables have come in the past decade. Smartwatches are no longer just a way to count steps or keep tabs on your fitness — they’re now thought of by many as lifesaving devices, an idea that Apple has cashed in on by making heart monitoring a central piece of its Apple Watch marketing. The company has boasted that the Apple Watch is an “intelligent guardian for your health” and that “the future of health is on your wrist.”

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