The Apple Watch May Soon Be Banned in the US — Unless Biden Overrules the ITC

Hand Holding Apple Watch Case Back Credit: Fabian Albert
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The US International Trade Commission (ITC) has officially ordered a ban on Apple Watch imports into the United States, after ruling that Apple violated patents held by pulse oximetry company Masimo.

The news comes from Reuters, which adds that the ban still needs to pass review by US President Joe Biden’s administration, so it will not take effect immediately. While US presidents have traditionally not vetoed such bans, Apple will be allowed to appeal the ban through the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit after the 60-day review period comes to an end.

“Masimo has wrongly attempted to use the ITC to keep a potentially lifesaving product from millions of U.S. consumers while making way for their own watch that copies Apple,” an Apple spokesperson said. “While today’s decision has no immediate impact on sales of Apple Watch, we believe it should be reversed, and will continue our efforts to appeal.”

Meanwhile, Masimo Chief Executive Officer Joe Kiani said the decision “sends a powerful message that even the world’s largest company is not above the law.”

Masimo and Apple have been fighting a legal battle since 2020 over several health measurement capabilities found in recent Apple Watch models. Masimo has been attempting to have several Apple Watch models banned in the United States, which it claims infringe on 10 of its patents.

While the ITC did not specify which Apple Watch Models would be affected under the ban, Masimo’s original lawsuit filing mentioned the Apple Watch Series 6 (released in 2020) as infringing its patents, likely due to the introduction of the new SPO2 sensors in that model which use light emitters to measure oxygen levels in the blood — technology specifically covered by Masimo’s patents.

This means that every model of the Apple Watch released after the Series 6 could be in danger of being banned, although the Apple Watch SE may be exempt as it doesn’t include any SPO2 sensing technology. Alternatively, Apple may simply be required to cease the sale of the Series 6 (which is no longer on the market) and pay fines.

Masimo claims Apple pretended to be in a working relationship with Masimo and its spinoff, pulse oximetry device designer Cercacor Laboratories Inc., so it could steal secret information from the companies, while also poaching Masimo employees.

Apple has hired employees away from Masimo, including hiring Chief Medical Officer Michael O’Reilly in July 2013, and then hiring Cercacor Chief Technical Officer Marcelo Lamego in 2014 (Cercacor is a Masimo spinoff company). Masimo charged that both former employees shared its intellectual property with Apple, which the Cupertino company denies.

Masimo is seeking over $1.8 billion in damages and co-ownership of five pulse oximetry patents held by Apple that Masimo says infringe on its technology.

In May 2023, a trial between Apple and Masimo ended in a mistrial. US District Judge James Selna declared the mistrial after jurors in the case were unable to come to a decision in their deliberations. The jury was hung six-to-one in favor of Apple

While the US Patent and Trademark Office invalidated all but two of the patents in question, the ITC in January ruled that Apple had indeed infringed on a patent Masimo holds that is related to using light-based technology to read blood-oxygen levels.

Apple filed a 2022 counter-suit against Masimo, claiming the company was seeking to pave the way for its own smartwatch competitor.

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