Apple wins battle in patent war with AliveCor over portable ECG tech

More than a year into its patent dispute with Apple over the heart-monitoring technology embedded in the tech giant’s eponymous smartwatch, AliveCor has been dealt a serious blow.

The company—which makes the FDA-cleared KardiaMobile personal ECG device—has alleged that Apple’s own portable ECG system infringes on AliveCor’s technology. But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled this week that all three of AliveCor’s challenged claims were “unpatentable.”

In its decision (PDF), per Reuters, the agency’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) concluded that a person “of ordinary skill in the art” of cardiac monitoring technologies could arrive at the same inventions, therefore dismissing all of AliveCor’s claims in the matter as too obvious to be patented.

In a statement sent to Fierce Medtech by a company spokesperson, AliveCor said it “is deeply disappointed and strongly disagrees with the decision by the PTAB and will appeal.”

The company still plans to move forward with another ongoing dispute against Apple through the International Trade Commission (ITC), about which it is “cautiously optimistic.”

“We will continue to vigorously protect our patents for the sake of our customers,” the statement continued. “The PTAB decision does not impact AliveCor’s ongoing business. We will continue to design and distribute our best-in-class portable ECG products and services to our customers.”

Apple, for its part, celebrated the win. In a statement of its own sent to Fierce Medtech, the company said, “We appreciate the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s careful consideration of these patents, which were found to be invalid. Apple’s teams work tirelessly to create products and services that empower users, including the industry-leading health, wellness and safety features we independently developed and incorporated into Apple Watch.”

Apple also referenced the ongoing ITC litigation—which still is yet to be decided—adding, “Today’s decision confirms that the patents AliveCor asserted in the ITC against Apple are invalid.”

The seeds of the dispute were sown back in 2016, when AliveCor unveiled a watchband and connected app for the Apple Watch that would allow wearers to take ECG readings at any time. The KardiaBand was cleared by the FDA in 2017, but just a year later, Apple all but eliminated the need for the external accessory by securing FDA clearance for an ECG built into the watch itself—prompting AliveCor to stop sales of the KardiaBand.

In 2021, AliveCor filed its complaint with the ITC, alleging that Apple had infringed upon three of the devicemaker’s patents regarding the mobile ECG and heart rate analysis technology. It filed a federal lawsuit against Apple around the same time, though that case was paused as the ITC case played out. AliveCor has also since filed a separate antitrust case, claiming that Apple has monopolized its own market for Apple Watch heart-monitoring apps in the U.S.

In its filings, AliveCor has sought to bar U.S. imports of Apple Watches that it claims infringe on its own ECG tech.

The ITC came to an initial conclusion earlier this year. In June, it determined that Apple had indeed violated two of AliveCor’s patents, potentially setting up the desired import ban on Apple Watches in the U.S. A final decision is expected on Dec. 12, though the patent board’s decision in the opposite direction this week may influence the ITC’s vote.

Additionally, just last week, before the PTAB’s decision came through, Apple filed a lawsuit of its own against AliveCor. In it, according to Reuters, the tech giant claimed that AliveCor has in fact infringed on Apple’s patents by copying several of its innovations in heart-rate sensing, health data collection and other connected health tools. Apple claimed that it’s been developing some of those technologies since 2008, well before AliveCor’s 2011 founding.

In a statement to the outlet, AliveCor classified the suit as “a desperate last-ditch effort by Apple to bully AliveCor into submission just days before the ITC decision.”