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FitTech IP disputes to run and run?

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runnersAs the world starts to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, fitness companies, which had driven advances in the home fitness industry as gyms were closed, are now turning to the legal system to protect their own products from competition while expanding into new lines of business.

In the most recent turn of events, Nike is suing Lululemon for patent infringement over Lululemon’s at-home Mirror fitness device and related mobile applications, alleging that Lululemon is infringing IP that they have been developing since 1983. This lawsuit follows Lululemon’s acquisition of Mirror, who previously produced the smart device and apps, for $500 million (£368 million) in 2020. A spokesperson for Lululemon has said that they are ‘confident in [defending their position] in , as the claims in Nike’s patents were “overly broad and invalid”.

With the home fitness industry thriving, new brands are coming head-to-head with market dominating giants. As the digital age accelerates innovation in the sporting world, organising and protecting your IP is important now more than ever, and it could save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Nike began creating digital sport innovations in 1983 when it invented and filed a patent application on a device for recording a runner’s activity, which comprised a transmitter and sensor in the runner’s shoe, and a receiver and microprocessor remote from the runner’s show. Nike has since developed ‘a robust portfolio of patents directed to its digital sport innovations for use in or with fitness equipment and apps’, particularly ones that allow users to connect with other athletes, said the shoe company in a lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court.

In the complaint, the American multinational corporation points out similarities between their patents and Lululemon’s Home Mirror Gym, which includes features that enable users to target specific levels of exertion, compete with other users, and record their own performance.

Prior to the lawsuit, Nike said that it notified Lululemon of this infringement and that Lululemon dismissed these claims. Nike is now seeking monetary compensation and for Lululemon to cease from commercialising these products for what it maintains was a deliberate and unauthorised use of their inventions.

This is a complex case that will take some time unless both parties settle early and it highlights the commercial value realised in making sure that your ideas (intellectual property) are protected before they are released to market. Innovation is tough and the market is competitive. But, implementing an innovation management strategy into your products could add a lot of value to your business.

Whether you are a start-up that has re-invented the boxing glove, a fitness apparel business with a unique brand, or research driven organisation with new products in the pipeline, it is important to implement an Intellectual Property protection culture into your business. A strong IP foundation provides a way to better position yourself against competitors, providing you with the scope to establish your own unique products, distinct branding, and marketing success.

One way to do this is by training your employees to have a solid, basic understanding of intellectual property and knowledge of the IP assets within your business; this IP could include your inventions and products, brands and logos, designs, literal works etc. Those responsible for developing or managing such assets for the business should take responsibility and act quickly to protect it. This can be done by keeping the ideas secret/within the business while an IP decision is made and by recording all ideas that result from your business activities.

Regular IP audits are also crucial; auditing is a tool for identifying your potential IP assets. Ideally an audit should be carried out by qualified IP auditors, but often a preliminary audit can be done in-house, within your business. Through an IP audit you can keep track of your potential IP assets.

The intensive paperwork-based activities of protecting your intellectual property (IP) can seem daunting. We at Keltie are specialists in Intellectual Property law. Our diverse and international team of experts cover a huge range of technologies, industries and specialisms. Should you need any assistance with Patents, Trademarks, Designs or Online Brand Protection, you can speak to any one of our extensive team of IP consultants, IP support groups and Patent attorneys.

With Intellectual Property protection at the heart of modern business, it is crucial that IP protection is at the forefront of your business strategy. Protecting your IP will keep you ahead of the competition, and give you the freedom to commercialise your products.

Joseph Tembo  4 July 2022

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