January always sees a boost for the fitness industry as people resolve to lead healthier lives, and make amends for some of the excesses of the festive season.
Wearables and fitness tracking devices have an increasingly large role to play in this market, and we are seeing an explosion in the field of wearable devices focused on health and lifestyle. Some analysis suggests the global wearables market could grow from its current level of circa $1.1 billion to $8.6 billion by 2024.1
Consumers are now familiar with activity trackers such as the Fitbit™ trackers and of course many of use mobile phone apps that perform sensing themselves or which communicate with other body worn devices. Devices are also becoming available that directly sense data from the skin or via sub-cutaneous sensors. The applications seem countless, from the management of diabetes to grocery shopping using your DNA profile.2
The need to implement what might previously have been intensively lab-based procedures in a wearable device, has of course required huge effort to be put into producing low cost devices. We are talking here about implementing complex sensing and analysis functions using devices that cost a few tens of dollars or less. In some cases the devices might even need to be disposable.
Whilst producing wearable devices of this nature at low cost is clearly key, a challenge for the developers of such devices is to keep the competition at bay. Whilst it might be easy to maintain a monopoly when performing processes in a laboratory, for example by restricting access to the lab processes, that is not easy in the case of a wearable device that is out there for everyone to see. There are plenty of low cost manufactures, particularly when it comes to consumer electronics, who will happily adopt your technology and compete on price.
It seems clear that intellectual property, particularly in the form of patents and trade marks, is the key to fighting off the competition. It is no surprise that research by the European Patent Office and EUIPR illustrates that IP filing activity is a key indicator of high growth technology companies3. There is likely to be a direct correlation between the stage in product development when expert advice is sought and rights applied for, and the scope of protection obtained and therefore company value.
Seeking advice early may allow you to protect a broad concept rather than a detailed implementation, where the latter will not prevent competitors offer a similar device.