Acquisition of Pebble Will Include a Narrow Patent Portfolio for Fitbit

TechCrunch reported today that Fitbit will be acquiring Pebble Technology Corporation (Pebble) for approximately $40 million. The deal will provide Fitbit with Pebble’s operating system, platform, and intellectual property. Envision IP analyzed Pebble’s patent portfolio to determine its extent and scope, as well as to determine if any of Pebble’s proprietary technologies would complement or add to Fitbit’s product development.

Pebble currently owns 17 issued US patents, and 16 published, pending US patent applications. Of its issued patents, 12 are design patents covering both square and round watch housings, as well as cable connectors. Its utility patents cover mechanical aspects of connection mechanisms, such as the use of specific springs and pins, to secure watch straps to housings. One patent, US 9,471,102, describes an electrical connection between a watch strap and watch housing, so that the electrical connection can be used to “extend the functionality of the display device or create additional display space for use by the display device”. The patent suggests the ability to extend a traditional display to areas of a watch strap or band equipped with display features.

Another patent, US 9,411,178, relates to using Unicode to embed hidden content, such as messages from a remote source, for display on a watch. The patent describes an embodiment where the watch can be used for various functions, such as participating in an online auction or bidding process, as shown in Fig. 8a below.

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Pebble’s pending US patent applications include technologies more focused on software and user-experience (versus the hardware and design features primarily covered by its issued patents). For example, US 20160316450 entitled “Living notifications” is directed towards updating messages related to a common thread, where only the most relevant messages are shown to the user, and messages which have lost relevance are concealed, thereby maximizing display space.

Another application, US 20160248637 entitled “Wearable device configured to intuitively interact with other devices” is related to analyzing user interactions at two remote wearable devices, and providing relevant content or actions on each device based on the analyzed interactions.

US 20160314497 entitled “Tracking time and context of use of a communication device” is directed towards delivering promotional content and advertising on a wearable display, as shown in the image below.

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The above are a few examples of Pebble’s patent-pending technologies which Fitbit could integrate with its own platform to enhance mobile advertising and monetization, device-to-device communications, and for optimizing display space, considering the limited viewing area on Fitbit’s wearable devices.

The Pebble patent portfolio will increase Fitbit’s overall patent holdings, however, these patents do not appear to be particularly fundamental to the wearable device space. The Pebble patents instead are primarily focused on narrow design and structural aspects of Pebble’s commercial products. The pending patent applications however appear more interesting in terms of innovative user-facing features, and if these applications result in granted patents, they may provide Fitbit with a few more unique technologies to implement into its product line.

Fitbit currently owns 188 issued US patents, and another 95 published US patent applications. Of its issued patents, Fitbit filed-for and is the original assignee for 164 these patents. However, 68 of these patents list both Fitbit and FitStar as co-assignees. FitStar was acquired by Fitbit in 2015, and it is not clear if these patents were acquired from FitStar or originally obtained by Fitbit.  The remaining handful of its issued patents were acquired by Fitbit during its acquisition of Coin, Inc.

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