Wearable tech maker Valencell is suing Apple and Fitbit, alleging the pair copied its technology without paying for a license.
The company filed separate suits against the two biggest sellers of wearables on Monday at the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleging both firms infringed four of its patents covering physiological monitoring in wearable technology.
According to the filing obtained by Apple Insider, Apple began scoping out Valencell's biometric sensing technology in early 2013, during the initial stages of the Apple Watch's development.
Valencell also alleges that Liang Hoe, a senior partnership manager at Apple, contacted the company over a "partnership opportunity" that never materialized, and that Apple had expressed interest in its heart sensor technology.
The biometric firm goes on to accuse several Apple agents involved in the design of the Apple Watch of accessing technical white papers available from Valencell's website between 2013 and 2015, adding that Apple was interested in understanding the structure of its PeformTek-Powered products. Valencell has licensed the technology to Sony and LG for their heart-rate earphones.
As noted in the complaint, Valencell offers access to its white papers in exchange for identity information, in the hope that other companies will license its technology.
However Valencell is accusing Apple employees of providing false identity information while repeatedly accessing its website from 10 IP addresses assigned to Apple.
"Apple solicited technical information and know-how from Valencell on the false premise that it wished to license Valencell's PerformTek Technology," the suit states.
The company claims that in 2013 it gave 15 Apple employees a demo of a prototype PerformTek-Powered watch that featured a heart-rate monitor on its back, which was "substantially similar" to the one that turned up on the Apple Watch. It also alleges that Apple later conducted testing on a product based on Valencell technology.
Valencell says Apple ultimately decided it was worth gambling on patent infringement over licensing the technology.
"Apple's interaction with Valencell was fueled by a business decision that the benefits of infringing upon Valencell's patented technology outweigh the risk of being caught and ultimately forced to pay damages."
"We've seen some companies choose to use our patented inventions without pursuing a patent license," Valencell's president Dr Steven LeBoeuf, said of the suits.
"We will defend our intellectual property to ensure our current and future licensees get the full value of licensing our inventions, as we continue to innovate around our foundational dream of seamless, personalized mobile health and fitness."
Fitbit has released a statement saying it will defend itself against Valence's claims.
"Since its inception, Fitbit has more than 200 issued patents and patent applications in this area. Fitbit plans to vigorously defend itself against these allegations," a Fitbit spokesperson said.