No last-minute reprieve, US ban on some Apple Watch sales now in effect

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Written By Sedoso Feb

Enlarge / The Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Apple

Apple is banned from selling the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 in the US after President Joe Biden’s administration refused to grant a reprieve from a trade tribunal’s decision that it had infringed another company’s patents.

Apple confirmed on Tuesday it had appealed against the earlier ruling from the US International Trade Commission, which stems from a patent dispute with health technology company Masimo.

Biden’s administration had 60 days from the ITC decision, which was handed down in October, to decide whether to allow it to take effect. The authority to decide whether to intervene was delegated by the White House to the US trade representative, Katherine Tai.

“After careful consultations, Ambassador Tai decided not to reverse the ITC’s determination and the ITC’s decision became final on December 26 2023,” Tai’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.

In a statement, Apple said it strongly disagreed with the ITC’s decision and exclusion order and was “taking all measures to return Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to customers in the US as soon as possible.”

Ahead of a final decision from the White House, Apple had said it would preemptively halt sales of the affected models in the US on its website from December 21, and in physical stores from December 24.

It is exceptionally rare for the White House to wade into such cases, although the Obama administration vetoed a patent ban on iPhones and iPads in 2013 during the company’s legal dispute with Samsung.

The ruling deals a blow to Apple, which is already facing a slowdown in hardware sales this year. Earlier models of the Apple Watch remain available in the US, and Apple says the ban will have no impact on service for customers who have already bought the new models.

The case stems from a legal dispute between Apple and Irvine, California-headquartered Masimo over patents on the technology for measuring blood oxygen levels on the devices. The method, known as pulse oximetry, measures oxygen in the blood by shining light into the wrist.

Apple first introduced the technology in 2020, in an effort to draw in more consumers and give them the incentive to upgrade with new features on the device. Masimo said Apple copied its patented technology.

The US International Trade Commission ruled in Masimo’s favor, issuing a “limited exclusion order” against Apple’s products.

Masimo has separately sued Apple in federal court alleging trade secret violations. A trial in that case ended with a hung jury in May.

Apple is similarly embroiled in litigation with medical wearables company AliveCor over the heart rate monitoring technology on its watches. In December 2022 the ITC upheld a judge’s ruling that Apple violated AliveCor’s patents.

But that same month, the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board invalidated the AliveCor patents at the center of the dispute, putting any potential ban on hold pending appeals.

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