Saturday, 13 March 2021

Rise & Design: Wearable Tech Webinar

The Apple Watch
Author fancycrave1 Copyright Waiver CC0 1.0 Source Wikimedia 















Jane Lambert

On 12 March 2021, the Design Network North held a webinar on wearable tech.  It was a very good meeting with speakers from Northumbria University, a company called Design Aware Body Survival ("DABS") and MediBioSense. There were also two opportunities for networking in breakout sessions and several of us had opportunities to present our businesses towards the end of the meeting.

The first presentation was given by Dt Alan Godfrey, Senior Lecturer of the Department: Computer and Information Science of Northumbria University, He spoke about his analysis of data on the way that individuals' walk which he had abstracted from devices that had been attached to patients' bodies. He gave the example of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease who tend to shuffle. Such research would improve diagnosis and patients' safety and mobility.  At one point Dr Godfrey spoke about standards for wearable devices which prompted me to ask who set those standards. The reason I asked that question is that compliance with standards set by ETSI for mobile telecommunications and other technologies sometimes requires the use of patented inventions which has given rise to disputes between users and patentees over whether patentees are entitled to licence fees and, if so, on what terms (see FRAND 8 Oct 2017 NIPC Law). It was clear from his answer that Dr Godfrey had a different context in mind but he replied that standards for some wearable tech had been set by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and other organizations.

The next speaker was Ryan McKinney of DABS Official.  DABS stands for Design Aware Body Survival. DABS is a startup that supplies a range of protective gloves designed to be worn throughout the day enabling wearers to go about their everyday business including, perhaps, shaking hands with others.  On "The story of DABS" page of the business's website, Mr McKinney wrote:
"The best ideas are those that solve problems.
For me it was the handshake."

DABS's gloves are both practical and stylish.  They are practical in that they protect the wearer from infection and are comfortable to wear all day. The "protection" page states that the gloves are treated with "Polygiene ViralOff technology, making them protective and safe". This is described as "an anti-microbial treatment added to the textile to protect the glove from contamination, and allowing the glove to sanitize itself."  According to the "tech-friendly" page, the gloves are made from a "breathable material" that "makes wearing the glove for extended period extremely comfortable, whether at work or at the shops." They are stylish because they were designed by Mrs Ryan McKinney who is a fashion designer. Photos of Mr McKinney and a lady accompanying him on the home page show that the gloves look as good on men and women in business attire as they would with leisurewear and overalls.

The last speaker was Simon Beniston who is founder and CEO of MediBioSense Ltd.  This is described as 

"a global multi-award-winning healthcare innovation company with a focus in medically certified wearable technologies, with team members and representatives, based in Europe, Africa, Middle East and the Americas."

One of the company's products is VitalPatch which is a wearable health monitoring device that continuously monitors heart rate, respiration, ECG, temperature, and movement, with data sent in real-time via Bluetooth. Mr Beniston described that device to the meeting.  He explained how it worked and discussed some of its advantages over conventional devices.

After the formal presentations, I was invited to give a 2-minute pitch about my practice.  I had intended to give a very short talk about the legal protection of wearable technology but changed my mind in one of the breakout sessions when I contributed to a conversation on IP on wearable technology.   I was asked what I did for a living and when I replied I was a barrister I was asked what barristers do with regard to IP.  In my pitch, I explained that we advise other professionals such as patent and trade mark attorneys on difficult points of law.  We represent them or their clients in the courts, Intellectual Property Office and other tribunals.   We also draft legal documents for use in business as well as dispute resolution.  Our relationship with those other professionals is often compared to that of a consultant surgeon or physician in medicine (see IP Services from Barristers 6 April 2013 NIPC News).  When Terry McStea, the moderator, asked how I might be consulted I explained that many of my clients were founders and other business owners who did not have relationships with specialist law firms, patent or trade mark agencies or other professionals and I helped them to acquire the necessary expertise to resolve a particular problem.  I added that I worked with accountants, brand consultants, product design engineers and many others as well as legal professionals.

The presentation that I had prepared would have been as follows.  Although two of the talks in the webinar had been about wearable tech in healthcare I would have noted that there are many other uses for the technology.  These include personal entertainment, mobile computing and communications, defence and security, fire and rescue, operating underwater, in radioactive conditions, outer space or interplanetary exploration. The protectable intellectual assets were obviously a product's technology but also its design and, maybe, its supplier's brand.

If a wearable product or process relating to such products such as data analysis was likely to be marketable for a number of years then a patent would be the optimum protection for the technology.  If not, some other form of protection such as trade secrecy or unregistered design right might be more appropriate.  I explained that patents are expensive.  Usually about £5,000 for the UK alone and may be £100,000 or more for the main industrial companies when office fees, attorneys' fees, translations and other expenses are dotted up. Protecting the patent from revocation in the world's courts and intellectual property offices might be even more expensive and it would be prudent to obtain insurance against the costs and consequences of litigation wherever available.

For some products such as a wristwatch style computer or indeed DABS's gloves, the appearance of the product may be the draw.   Suppliers could register those products as registrable designs or as registered Community designs for the 27 remaining member states of the EU. Overseas they could take advantage of the Hague Agreement to register designs or design patents in countries outside the EU.  Designs that are capable of being registered as registered designs but with short shelf-lives are protected automatically against copying in the UK for 3 years as supplementary unregistered designs or as unregistered Community designs in the EU.  In the UK unregistered design right and even artistic copyright protection may be available.

Finally, every business has a brand and names, initials, logos or other signs identifying that brand can be registered as trade marks in the UK and EU trade marks in the remaining EU member states.  For other countries, applications for registration in a number of countries can be made under the Madrid Protocol.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article or any of the options for protecting their brands, designs, technology or creativity can call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

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