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Health & fitness, data and patents

Mens sana, in corpore sano ... But will the data about the health of our bodies give us less than peace of mind?

November 2014

Creating value out of data has become big business. This has brought an inevitable upsurge in the last few years of patent applications being filed in attempts to gain protection for inventions concerning the analysis of data and the creation of some useful results from that data.  Many such inventions centre around algorithms for combining different elements of input data in such a way as to produce a meaningful conclusion that can be acted upon. Examples of application for patents based on analysis of data cover anything from share trading, to image recognition and sports team statistics.  Algorithms themselves are not patentable subject matter within Europe including in the UK, and neither are methods of doing business and computer programs "as such". In circumstances broadly where there is a technical contribution or technical effect resulting from the algorithm however, patent protection may be achievable.

xray and heart rate illustrationAt the same time, hard-wear capable of recording our heart rate, blood pressure,  degree of activity, number of steps etc. which is both light-weight and affordable has become available, and as consumers we have readily bought into recording our own vital statistics for our own interest and health. The boom in the popularity of the quest for healthy living - what we eat, how we exercise and how much we do -  has meant greater and greater business opportunities - expanding from the  gym memberships,  fitness classes  and fitness equipment of old towards bespoke exercise and healthy diet plans. Who knew there could be so many ways of making a green juice, such is the influence of California and NYC lifestyles and obsession with kale?

The inevitable next step is providing personalized programs through feedback on the most appropriate diet and/or fitness regime based on data generated from data from wearable devices, together with data from other sources giving clues as to lifestyle, such as online purchase history, use of social media or even medical records.

With enough relevant data and a sufficiently sophisticated level of analysis, one would expect such apps to garner a high level of consumer interest, in terms of the potential to provide genuinely useful diet / health / lifestyle plans. Such patent applications have been filed worldwide. However, the biggest barrier to the take up of potentially useful innovation and technology are the huge privacy and data protection implications.  Large collectors and brokers of consumer data often hide under the guise of anonymized data, but applications which are by their nature personalised create another level of concern over the collection, amalgamation and analysis of highly personalized data. Even if assurances are given by providers of such services, as to the use of personal data, how far can that allay consumer fears that data will be sold on or stolen.

moneyWith car insurance premiums already effected by the collection of data as to the "safety"  of a person's driving, concerns as to the affordability  or even availability of health insurance if such analysis were available are all too obvious.  It will be interesting to see if the number of patent applications based on offline systems and user controlled use of data sees an increase.

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Dr using laptop

"Examples of application for patents based on analysis of data cover anything from share trading, to image recognition and sports team statistics."