Battle of the Smart Sportswear: Georgia Tech Inventors Sue Adidas, Victoria’s Secret, Ralph Lauren and Others

A team of Georgia Tech inventors are suing Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, Athos, and several other companies for patent infringement after the fashion brands created garments that monitor the wearer’s vital signs. The undeniably nifty but allegedly illegal products targeted by the lawsuits include the Victoria’s Secret Incredible Bra, which tracks the wearer’s heart rate; Athos training gear, which determines muscle effort, heart rate, and breathing rate; and Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech Shirt, which were worn by athletes at the most recent U.S. Open.

The two patents in question (U.S. Patent No. 6,381,482 and U.S. Patent No. 6,970,731), filed in 1999 and 2000, were transferred from Georgia Tech Research Corporation to Atlanta-based Sarvint Technologies last year (a company cofounded by the same guys who invented the technology). One of the inventors, Palaniswamy Rajan, made a statement about the lawsuits, saying, “Intellectual property is one of a technology company’s most important and valuable assets. Sarvint does not favor litigation, but we recognize that it is our duty to protect the company’s intellectual property any time someone misappropriates it. We want these companies to discontinue business activities that infringe on our intellectual property.”

The story started when the Tech team invented the Smart Shirt (aka Wearable Motherboard) back in 1998. The garment uses specialty fibers to monitor heart rate, temperature, and respiration rate and will reportedly be available for the public this spring, although the new versions look considerably more stylish than previous iterations:

The original Smart Shirt (right) now resides in the Smithsonian Institution.  Images via Georgia Tech

The original Smart Shirt (right) now resides in the Smithsonian Institution. Images via Georgia Tech

And though it might not look like much at first glance, the Smart Shirt made quite the splash when it was unveiled. LIFE Magazine called it “one of 21 breakthroughs that could change your life in the 21st Century” in 1998, Time Magazine listed it as one of the “Inventions of the Year” in 2001, Newsweek said it was among the “10 inventions that will change the world” in 2003, etc. etc. In other words, people really dug it. The inventors envisioned it being used not just for athletes but for astronauts, soldiers, and post-operative patients. Here it is on the Discovery Channel (skip to 2:11):

The wearable technology industry is about to get very interesting and may very well change the way we work out in the next few years. We’ll post updates on this story as they become available.