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Masimo sues Apple over Apple Watch patents, alleged theft of trade secrets

Medical technology company Masimo on Thursday filed a legal complaint claiming Apple infringes on 10 owned patents with its Apple Watch device, and stole vital trade secrets through the hiring of key personnel.

Lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the suit alleges Apple Watch, including the latest Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5 models, leverages technology covered by ten Masimo patents. Specifically noted in the case is intellectual property detailing Apple Watch health features like heart rate monitoring.

According to the filing, Masimo is a pioneer of non-invasive physiological monitoring techniques having developed a wide range of technologies to track patients' pulse rate, arterial oxygen saturation and other parameters using nothing more than transmitted light.

In particular, Masimo invested heavily in the evolution of photoplethysmograph, or PPG, technology. While exact methodologies differ, PPGs at their most basic level sample readings from light transmitted into, and subsequently reflective off of, body tissue. Results can then be obtained by calculating attenuation of light from constituents in the human body, specifically blood.

The company's Signal Extraction Technology (Masimo SET) solved a variety of problems that plagued traditional PPG hardware, improving reliability and accuracy of reporting of physiological signals derived from the PPG, the suit reads. Masimo went on to develop other non-invasive technologies measuring total hemoglobin, carboxyhemoglobin, and methemoglobin.

In 2013, prior to the launch of the original Apple Watch, Apple approached Masimo with a potential deal that would integrate the medical firm's technology into an as-yet-unreleased product. Following what appeared to be fruitful initial talks, Apple stepped back and in 2014 began to hire key Masimo personnel including former Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Michael O'Reilly and Cercacor CTO Marcelo Malini Lamego. The tech giant has adopted identical strategies in the past.

Cercacor is an offshoot of Masimo, having been spun out from the main company in 1998 as "Masimo Labs" and later renamed. While the two companies share a cross-licensing agreement, Masimo does not own Cercacor.

Masimo and Cercacor warned Apple about potential legal violations, but the iPhone maker went on to pursue patent applications covering topics similar to those already patented by the medical technology firms. Lamego, named as an inventor on many of these patents, was "intimately involved" in the development of corresponding technologies at Cercacor and Masimo, suggesting the executive aped the sensitive IP on behalf of Apple.

In addition to infringement and trade secrets claims, plaintiffs seek correction of inventorship on five patents, the subject matter of which Lamego allegedly obtained from discussions with Masimo or Cercacor employees Ammar Al-Ali, Mohamed Diab and Walter Weber. The suit claims Al-Ali, Diab and Weber are inventors of the IP "regardless of patentability."

Masimo seeks an injunction against Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5, damages for patent infringement and theft of trade secrets, and court fees, among other relief.