“Smart Shirt” patent infringement claim names well-known brands.
In January 2015, Sarvint Technologies Inc., Atlanta, Ga., filed complaints for patent infringement in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against a number of leading brands, including Adidas North America, Ralph Lauren Corp., Textronics Inc. and Victoria’s Secret. Sarvint may not be a well-known name in the field, but is causing a stir in the world of wearable technology.
Sarvint’s co-founders include Sundaresan Jayaraman and Sungmee Park, both then based at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). They presented a paper at the First International Symposium on Wearable Computers held at MIT in October 1997. In April 2014, Georgia Tech awarded Sarvint an exclusive right to two patents relating to what was claimed to be the world’s first Wearable Motherboard.
The company was originally scheduled to commercially launch a “smart shirt” this spring, postponed until summer. Using specialty fibers, the shirt is designed to measure heart rate, temperature, respiration and other data.
Patents and academic papers
The litigation goes back to the 1997 paper presented by Jayaraman and Park at MIT. According to Palaniswamy Rajan, also a company co-founder, “Intellectual property is one of a technology company’s most important and valuable assets …. Sarvint does not favor litigation, but we recognize that it is our duty to protect the company’s intellectual property any time someone misappropriates it.”
The lawsuit claims infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,381,482 (2002), titled “Fabric or Garment with Integrated Flexible Information Infrastructure,” and U.S. Patent No. 6,970,731 (2005), titled “A Novel Fabric-Based Sensor for Monitoring Vital Signs.” Both appear to be based in the paper delivered at the MIT symposium, titled “A Sensate Liner for Personnel Monitoring Applications.”
The paper, and the body of research behind it, was primarily aimed at military applications, and the work was jointly sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). However, mention was made of the possibility for additional applications in other areas of wearable technology, including medical monitoring.
This industry is no stranger to litigation for patent infringement. Last year Adidas made a claim against Under Armour for alleged mobile health fitness-related patent infringements. Sarvint is a relatively new company in terms of brand identity, and argues that the existence of “unauthorized manufacturing” relating to its patents is interfering with its ability to build a management team and raise capital for its own products.
Brands named in the legal action, and other companies in wearable technology, are saying little publicly. But as these two patents reflect the most common approach to wearable technology for gathering biometric data, the industry is understandably anxious about a resolution .
Marie O’Mahony is professor of Materials Art + Design at the Design Faculty, Ontario College of Art + Design University, and visiting professor at University of the Arts, London.