Federal Circuit Affirms PTAB in Fitness Tracking Patent Fight

The Federal Circuit affirmed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB) decision in its opinion filed on Thursday, between appellant Blackbird Technologies and appellees Fitbit, Inc., and Wahoo Fitness. The appeal was set before Chief Judge Prost and Circuit Judges Reyna and Taranto. Circuit Judge Taranto issued the opinion for the court. PTAB ruled in favor of Fitbit and Wahoo.

Blackbird Tech owns U.S. Patent No. 6,434,212, which “describes and claims a device that counts an individual’s steps and, based on the length and rate of those steps, provides the individual with information such as distance traveled and speed.” Claim 6 stated, “[a] pedometer comprising: a step counter; a transmitter in communication with the step counter to generate a step count signal corresponding to each step and transmit the step count signal…” Fitbit previously argued that claims 2, 5, and 6 were unpatentable because “claims 2 and 5 are anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6,241,684 (Amano),” “claims 2 and 5 are unpatentable for obviousness over Amano,” and “claim 6 is unpatentable for obviousness over a combination of Amano and U.S. Patent No. 5,033,013 (Kato).” Wahoo argued in its petition for an inter partes review with the same reasoning as Fitbit.

The PTAB’s inter partes review of Claims 2, 5, and 6 “ultimately determined that Fitbit had proven claim 6 of the ’212 patent unpatentable for obviousness but had not proven claims 2 and 5 unpatentable.” Blackbird appealed the PTAB’s Claim 6 ruling, alleging that the they “erred in finding that Kato discloses claim 6’s limitation ‘a data processor programmed to calculate a distance traveled by multiplying a number of steps counted by stride length.’” The Federal Circuit found that “Kato discloses a processing means that uses a walker’s stride length, along with the walker’s ‘pitch,’ to determine the walker’s speed.” Kato also presented an equation to express this relationship. The court held that “[s]ubstantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that a relevant skilled artisan would read Kato as teaching a ‘data processor programmed to calculate a distance traveled by multiplying a number of steps counted by a stride length…that is directly supported by the above equation,” and “can be expressed as simply ‘determining the number of steps and multiplying them by a stride length.’”

Meanwhile, Blackbird argued that PTAB “worked backward, with knowledge of the claimed invention, to modify the Kato reference in such a way so as to arrive at the claimed invention.” However, the Federal Circuit found that the “Board’s conclusion of unpatentability did not rely on a modification of Kato’s equation – it relied on a finding that a relevant skilled artisan would consider Kato’s equation to teach claim 6’s limitation.” Consequently, the Federal Circuit stated that the PTAB would have had “a sufficient basis to find that a relevant artisan would have considered Kato’s method for calculating distance traveled to be identical to claim 6’s limitation.” As a result, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB decision.

Blackbird Tech is represented by Stamoulis & Weinblatt LLC. Fitbit is represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. Wahoo Fitness is represented by Harness, Dickey & Pierce, PLC.