Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge, Samsung Galaxy Watch, Garmin Vivosmart, just to name but a few of the numerous smart watches and activity trackers that should help us live healthier lives. With their built-in sensors they measure and analyze our heart rate, how many calories we burn and our sleeping pattern.
From pedometer to smart watch
As an aid for a healthier lifestyle, the pedometer was first introduced in 1965. Back then, the Japanese company Yamasa launched the first wearable pedometer: the Manpo-Kei, literally meaning ‘10,000 step meter’. The first wireless heart rate monitor was invented by the Finnish company Polar Electro in the late 1970s and introduced onto the market in the early 1980s. Joining the various sensors together into one small wearable device, and the addition of internet connectivity is something relatively recent. In 2009, Fitbit (now a part of Google) introduced their first activity tracker going by the same name. It collected data on sleep, exercise and calorie burn and then synchronized this data with the PC. A rapid expansion of wearables including these functionalities was triggered particularly in the wake of the introduction in 2014 of the best known smart watch, the Apple Watch.
Peak in patents has been reached
Smart watches are all very similar. The hardware mainly consists of a computer and a series of sensors, such as a barometer, accelerometer, gyroscope and heart rate monitor. Since the introduction of the first smart watches, only minor technical modifications have been made to them. After a significant rise since 2012, developments in the number of new patent grants seems to have stabilized since 2021. Samsung, Fitbit and Seiko are the top three manufacturers that have acquired the most intellectual property rights. Surprisingly, Apple comes in fifth.
Internet of Things and medical applications
Due to the Internet of Things, wearable technology such as a smart watch can be connected to other devices and systems more and more. Not surprisingly, the focus of patent applications is increasingly on software and computer-implemented inventions.
Inventions can be multi-purpose. As a result, smart watches are capable of providing more detailed feedback on fitness and health, and among other things enable medical applications. In the near future, smart devices ‘communicating’ with each other will probably also measure and analyze our blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The market may very well take a head start on all that. At the moment, the majority of the patents fall within the category of ‘medical technology’.
A salient detail is that Apple would have liked to call their watch iWatch in 2014. The watch brand Swatch put a stop to this. The name was too similar to the product name iSwatch that they had already registered. Hence, Apple’s smartwatch now goes through life as Apple Watch.