In a ruling by a federal appeals court on Wednesday, Apple Watches equipped with blood-oxygen level reading capabilities are prohibited from being imported into the United States due to an ongoing patent dispute. The imports of smartwatches with blood oximeters were previously permitted while the appeal process was underway.
As of 5 pm on January 18, the affected watches are barred from import while Apple appeals the ban imposed by the US International Trade Commission (ITC). In response, Apple announced on Wednesday that it would remove the blood-oxygen reading feature from two flagship Apple Watch models in the US. The legal battle is anticipated to take about a year to resolve, and Apple’s decision to eliminate the feature for fitness purposes rather than withdrawing devices from sale was expected.
The Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models without the blood-oxygen feature will be available for sale on Apple’s website and stores starting at 6 am Pacific time on Thursday. The ITC’s import ban briefly took effect on December 26, but the federal circuit lifted it the next day while considering Apple’s request for a long-term pause. Apple resumed sales of the smartwatches on the same day. However, the imports of all Apple Watch models are not entirely prohibited, as a proposed redesign by Apple was determined by US Customs and Border Protection on January 12 to allow reconfigured versions of the latest Series 9 and Ultra 2 Apple Watches without violating ITC restrictions.
The ongoing dispute involves patents owned by medical technology company Masimo, accusing Apple of poaching its employees and stealing pulse oximetry technology for use in Apple Watches. The ITC imposed the import ban and direct sales restrictions on Apple Watches reading blood-oxygen levels following Masimo’s complaint.
Before the temporary pause granted by the appeals court, Apple had already stopped selling its latest Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches in the US before Christmas. The devices remained available from other US retailers, including Amazon.com, Best Buy, Costco, and Walmart. Apple has requested the federal circuit to keep the ban on hold during the appeals process, likely to last for months, arguing that it is likely to win its appeal, and enforcing the ban would harm the company, its suppliers, and the public.
The commission countered, stating that Apple’s arguments amounted to little more than a patent infringer seeking permission to continue infringing. Apple has included a pulse oximeter feature in its smartwatches since the Series 6 Apple Watch in 2020 and has countersued Masimo for patent infringement, describing Masimo’s legal actions as a maneuver to pave the way for its competing watch. Apple Watches represent about a quarter of the global smartwatch market, and the wearables, home, and accessory business, including Apple Watch and AirPods, generated $8.28 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2023, according to an Apple company report.
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