Jawbone promises to pick up slack if ITC blocks Fitbit imports

By Jonah Comstock

Heart rate-tracking wearable

Jawbone's beef with competitor Fitbit is heating up, according to a report from Bloomberg. Jawbone is apparently trying to get the US International Trade Commission to block Fitbit's imports into the US based on the same complaints that form the basis of its two recent lawsuits against Fitbit.

"Complainants seek relief from the Commission in the form of a limited exclusion order excluding from entry into the United States activity tracking devices, systems, and components thereof that infringe the asserted patents," Jawbone writes in the complaint after laying out a list of BodyMedia and Aliphcom patents. "... Complainants also seek relief from the Commission in the form of a limited exclusion order excluding from entry into the United States Respondents’ activity tracking devices, systems, and components thereof that are designed, made, sourced, promoted, imported, and sold using Complainants’ trade secrets."

Jawbone's complaints to the US ITC mostly tracks the complaints in the two lawsuits the company has filed against Fitbit -- one, filed in May, that alleges Fitbit poached employees and stole proprietary information from Jawbone and another, filed in June, that alleges Fitbit violated patents Jawbone acquired when it bought BodyMedia. But there is at least one tidbit of new information in the filing: Jawbone also accuses former Jawbone supplier and current Fitbit supplier Flextronics of using confidential Jawbone information in the manufacture of Fitbit devices.

"Additionally, Flextronics, after receiving confidential information through its manufacturing and prototyping for Jawbone, utilized the same team members to manufacture Fitbit’s devices and continued accessing Jawbone confidential material long after its relationship with Jawbone ended," the complaint states.

According to Bloomberg, the ITC usually works a bit faster than the courts and will likely complete its investigation in 15 to 18 months -- at which point, if Jawbone gets its way, Fitbit could find itself in a very difficult position.

The protracted conflict between the two trackers comes at a time when Fitbit is doing well by most standards -- leading sales in the US while enjoying a record-breaking IPO. Jawbone, meanwhile, likely had to borrow its last $300 million capital infusion from BlackRock on harsh terms after being sued by Flextronics for allegedly not paying its debts. Also according to Bloomberg, Avoca Technologies, a Canadian distributor of Jawbone products, and Lorom Industrial, a Taiwanese cable manufacturer, also sued the company this year for failing to make good on payments.

In a final note that's perhaps a little too on point, Jawbone assures the US ITC that taking action wouldn't damage the US fitness tracker market.

"Neither an exclusion order nor a cease and desist order would adversely impact consumers, because of the ability of Jawbone and third parties to meet any increase in demand," the company writes. "The replacement of the accused fitness and activity trackers with Jawbone‘s UP System Trackers or a third-party fitness and activity tracker would result in the same overall performance from the consumer's perspective."