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Swatch is secretly stockpiling smartwatch patents, could a device be on the way?

Swiss watchmaker Swatch has been defiant in its smartwatch views, with chief executive Nick Hayek dismissing the Apple Watch as “an interesting toy, but not a revolution” and criticizing smartwatches for short battery life and limited features.

Even so, Swatch is amassing a huge stockpile of smartwatch patents, which clearly shows it has some interest. The company has filed 173 related patent applications in the U.S. and abroad, according to a report from Bloomberg, with most of these being filed after 2012.

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The patents cover a broad range of smartwatch features, from a smart battery that doubles as a data transmitter to a radio frequency signal receiver. According to law firm Envision IP, the company has smartwatch patents for circuitry and hardware — enough to build its own smartwatch without having to partner with another company.

Tag Heuer, another Swiss watchmaker, recently had to partner with Intel to build its own smartwatch. Other Android Wear manufacturers have had to work with Qualcomm, Intel, and other suppliers, rather than build their own internal components.

Removing all third-party suppliers might allow Swatch to fix some of the issues it sees in the smartwatch industry, like low battery life and lackluster features. That also suggests Swatch isn’t going to choose Android Wear if it does build a smartwatch, since Hayek has criticized the interfaces developed for those wearables before.

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It’s also possible that Swatch might be building this patent portfolio for extra income, similar to Microsoft’s Android patents that make more revenue than Windows Phone and Xbox combined. It is hard to know if Swatch holds patents that are the key to the future since we aren’t sure what direction the wearables market will take in the next five years.

The Swiss watchmaker isn’t completely avoiding the current market in smart technology, and recently launched Bellamy, a watch with payments functionality. The company also launched the Touch Zero One, a smartwatch that can to track fitness stats. That said, it hasn’t launched a fully-fledged smartwatch to compete with the Apple Watch and Android Wear, and that is what we’re hoping to see from Swatch in the near or medium term.