The rise and rise of the smart watch – an investigation into the smart watch patent landscape

10 August 2015

According to a recent report, Apple shipped an estimated 4 million units of its Watch during the second quarter of 2015. This means the firm has already captured 75% of the smart watch marketshare across the world, despite only being available since late April. The research also shows that global smart watch shipments saw a highly significant 457% growth year-over-year. Meanwhile, Samsung was the big loser in Q2 2015, as it fell to second place, shipping a mere 0.4 million devices during that timeframe.

We decided to investigate the patent landscape around smart watches and see how that compares with the financial data...

Top Companies

Perhaps not surprisingly the number of patents in this space is currently relatively low, however it is rapidly evolving into an increasingly competitive market. As seen in the below table, the top companies seem to be a mixture of mobile handset manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, LG, Motorola and Blackberry, alongside computing firms such as IBM, Microsoft (who now have handset capability following their acquisition of Nokia Devices) and Google. In addition there is some activity by traditional watch companies such as Timex and Casio.

Watch 2

What’s been happening over time?

The heat map below shows trends [since 1995] for some of the top companies and reveals a recent surge in activity surrounding protection for smart watches. The pioneering players in the field are Seiko, IBM and Timex, all with initial patent publications dating back to the mid-nineties. Apple and Google are relative newcomers to the space with portfolios only covering 2012-present. It is interesting to see Blackberry also emerge as a player during the same period; after its problems in the handset market it appears to be adding another string to its bow.

Watch 3

What are they patenting?

The early Seiko documents relate to athletic or sports type watches which comprise measurement capability such as pulse, or pace via a built-in pedometer. The early Timex portfolio comprises data exchange between a smart watch and a PC, using screen light flashes. Another technology incorporates wireless security functions, such as alarm or vehicle control signals, being stored and able to be transmitted by the watch.

Our review of the patent data also reveals some of the designs that are emerging for these products. Blackberry has a concept for a smart device that is structured as a large clip, in order that it can be attached to many things, including a wristband to give it a wristwatch configuration. Apple appears to have adopted a wristband that contains a dock to accept an iPod Nano-sized smart device to form a wrist watch configuration. This means both the device and the strap options can be varied and upgraded over time.

Watch 1

Google has adopted the more traditional wristwatch design where no separation or undocking of the smart device is possible. But a flip-up screen provides augmented reality or dual-screen options for applications.

What’s next for Smart-Watches?

The most recent patent publications from the top companies may offer some insight into the features and concepts that could make it into the next generation of smart-watches.

Haptic / Tactile Feedback – both LG and Google have recent publications regarding this functionality. Arrays of tiny electrodes on the back cover of the device can produce a wide range of sensations or patterns of sensations to provide discreet alarms or status alerts.

User Interface – how to provide the content users expect such as email, messaging, remote control and web-browsing on such a small screen format? Sony is looking at 3D displays to layer information such that it appears below the phone screen. LG has recently published a patent application covering use of the smart-watch device to provide gesture remote control of household appliances, such as televisions and DVD devices.

David Beet is a Senior IP Analyst at Haseltine Lake. Our HL Analytics department can provide a visual dashboard representation of a patent portfolio, indicating numbers of filings, status of patents and jurisdictions covered in an easy to assimilate format. Such studies support and enhance presentations surrounding mergers, acquisitions or due-diligence on a potential deal. A patent landscape map can be used to visualise how the patents of a target company sit in respect to those of key competitors.

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