In May 2006, Nike and Apple teamed up to produce and market the Nike+ Sports Kit, a wireless device designed to connect iPod handheld devices to Nike+ footwear. The Sports Kit contains two pieces: a sensor placed in the shoe and a receiver connected directly to the iPod. The information provided by the sensor in the Nike+ footwear is displayed on the iPod screen to give the runner real time data on pace, calories burned, distance and time as well as audible feedback through the runner’s headphones. Once a workout is complete, the runner can connect the iPod or iPhone to a computer, and the data automatically syncs with the Nike+ website where the runner can view all past runs and interact with other runners. The system is designed to be a personal coach for either the recreational runner or high level athlete.
The result of this marriage of digital and sports technology is, according to Nike, “the ultimate personal running and workout experience.” Apparently, many runners agree and, like Usain Bolt running one hundred meters, the Nike+ Sports Kit has flown out of stores. The related line of products has expanded to include armbands, iPhone apps, desktop software and more.
But whereas runners may applaud this marriage of sports and technology, at least one company believes it leaves a sneaker-mark on its patents. On February 16, 2010, Affinity Labs of Texas LLC, which holds three patents that it claims are infringed by the Nike+ Sport Kit, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. According to Affinity, it contacted Nike and Apple in June 2006 to discuss a potential alliance, at which time Affinity informed both companies of its patent portfolio. At the time, Affinity’s portfolio consisted of Patent No. 7,062,225 entitled “Pedometer System and Method of Use” and two pending patent applications that were later issued as Patent No. 7,251,454 and Patent No. 7,519,327, entitled “Athletic Monitoring System and Method.” Soon after this initial contact, Nike and Apple started to sell the Nike+ Sports Kit.
Perhaps recognizing that licensing discussions at times can be more like a marathon than a sprint, Affinity says it continued to press Nike and Apple regarding its patents and possible licensing arrangements. With neither company expressing much interest, Affinity finally hit the wall and filed suit for willful infringement of its patents. Affinity contends that the patents were infringed through the manufacturing, marketing, offering for sale, importing and/or selling of the Nike+ line of products, the iPod line of products, the use of the Nike+ line of products with the Apple iPod line of products, and the development of the Nike+ website, software applications, iTunes desktop applications and certain GPS based mobile applications such as RunKeeper Pro through the Apple App Store. Affinity seeks a permanent injunction against the defendants, monetary and compensatory damages, and an increased damage award due to the willful nature of the infringement, as well as attorney and court fees.
This suit is not the first patent hurdle relating to the Nike+ Sports Kit that Nike and Apple have had to overcome in the courtroom. In February 2007, PhatRat Technology, which develops wireless devices that gauge a wearer’s performance, claimed Apple and Nike had infringed a number of its patents, including one entitled “Shoes employing monitoring devices and associated methods.” Later that same year, Leaper Footwear brought suit against Nike for patent infringement, claiming that Leaper had developed and patented footwear that measures locomotive performance parameters, such as walking or running speed, and/or distance traveled in 1998. Nike and Apple, however, were able to avoid both obstacles by settling each claim out of court and the cases were dismissed.
Despite these legal troubles, the Nike-Apple alliance has sprinted away from the competition. As of April 2010, runners have logged approximately 220 million miles on the Nike+ website and it has become the world’s largest online running destination.