USITC investigation of Fitbit based on complaint from Philips.

USITC investigation of Fitbit based on complaint from Philips.

A patent is a set of exclusive right granted to the inventor of an invention.  To be granted a patent in the United States, an inventor must file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office reviews patent applications to make sure that the invention meets all the requirements to be granted a patent.  If a patent is granted, the owner of the patent is granted the exclusive right to make, use, sell, and import the invention in the United States.  If someone other than the patent owner attempts to exercise one of these exclusive rights that can be considered patent infringement.  A patent owner can file a lawsuit to stop patent infringement with an injunction and to get monetary damages for patent infringement which has already occurred.

Another option that a patent owner can exercise to enforce its patent rights is the United States International Trade Commission.  The International Trade Commission is an independent, quasijudicial Federal agency with broad investigative responsibilities on matters of trade.  One of the functions of the International Trade Commission is to adjudicate cases involving imports that allegedly infringe intellectual property rights, such as patents.

A patent owner that believes their patent is being infringed by an imported product can file a complaint requesting a Section 337 investigation with the U.S. International Trade Commission.  Once a Section 337 investigation is instituted, it is assigned to an administrative law judge.  The judge will conduct a hearing which is similar to a hearing in a federal court.  On finding a violation of Section 337, the International Trade Commission may issue an exclusion order prohibiting importation of the involved products or cease and desist orders or both.  If the International Trade Commission’s order is violated it has the authority to bring a civil action seeking a civil penalty.

In December 10, 2019 Philips North America, LLC filed a complaint with the USITC alleging that several of its patents were being infringed by products being imported into the United States.  The complaint alleges violations of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 in the importation into the United States and sale of certain wearable monitoring devices, systems, and components thereof that infringe patents asserted by the complainants. The specific patents which are said to be infringed are U.S. Patent No. 7,845,228 (“the ’228 patent”); U.S. Patent
No. 9,820,698 (“the ’698 patent”); U.S. Patent No. 9,717,464 (“the ’464 patent”); and U.S. Patent No. 9,961,186 (“the ’186 patent”). The complainants request that the USITC issue a limited exclusion order and cease and desist orders.

Fitbit and Garmin are two of the companies allegedly importing infringing products.   The USITC found Philip’s complaint to be persuasive enough that investigation 337-TA-1190 has been initiated.   By instituting the investigation, the USITC has not yet made any decision on the merits of the case. The USITC’s Chief Administrative Law Judge will assign the case to one of the USITC’s administrative law judges, who will schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing. The ALJ will make an initial determination as to whether there is a violation of section 337; that initial determination is subject to review by the Commission.  The outcome of this case will be of particular interest to manufacturers of wearable smart devices.

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