Apple has been banned from selling its latest Apple Watch models, the Series 9 and Ultra 2, in the United States due to an ongoing patent dispute with medical device maker Masimo. The ban specifically applies to Apple Watches that have a blood oxygen monitoring feature, which Masimo claims infringes on its patents.
Background of the Dispute
The patent dispute dates back to 2020 when Masimo first filed a complaint against Apple with the International Trade Commission (ITC). Masimo claimed that Apple was infringing on its patents related to pulse oximetry, which is used to measure blood oxygen levels.
Specifically, Masimo has patents covering low power pulse oximetry sensor technologies and algorithms to measure blood oxygen accurately on wearable devices. Masimo alleged that Apple’s implementation of a blood oxygen app on the Apple Watch infringed on 10 of its patents.
In December 2022, an ITC judge initially ruled in favor of Masimo and recommended banning imports of Apple Watches with the blood oxygen monitoring feature. Apple appealed the decision, but a final determination by the full ITC commission upheld the ban in January 2024.
Timeline of Key Events
|Masimo files complaint against Apple with ITC over patent infringement related to Apple Watch blood oxygen monitoring
|ITC judge issues initial determination recommending import ban on infringing Apple Watch models
|ITC adopts judge’s recommendations and proposes ban on Apple Watch imports
|January 17, 2024
|Federal appeals court denies Apple’s request to delay ITC import ban
|January 18, 2024
|ITC ban on infringing Apple Watch models goes into effect
Impact of the Ban
With the ITC ban now in place, Apple can no longer import or sell Apple Watch models with the blood oxygen app in the United States. This includes the recently released Series 9 and top-of-the-line Ultra 2 models.
To comply with the ban and continue selling Apple Watches in the US, Apple has begun producing Series 9 and Ultra 2 models that do not have the blood oxygen monitoring feature enabled. New models being sold from January 18 onwards will not have the blood oxygen app installed.
For customers, this means missing out on a key health tracking feature on the latest Apple Watches. The blood oxygen app uses infrared light and advanced algorithms to measure the oxygen saturation in a user’s blood. This provides important information on overall respiratory and cardiac health.
Apple attempted to downplay the significance of removing the feature, saying the app was “not medically critical” and had “unreliable measurements”. But medical experts disputed this claim, saying the feature provides clinically meaningful information that can detect early signs of health conditions like asthma, heart disease, and sleep apnea.
What Happens Next?
It is unclear how long the import ban on infringing Apple Watch models will remain in place. The dispute between Apple and Masimo could still be resolved or make its way through further appeals.
In the meantime, Apple Watch models being sold in the US will not have the blood oxygen monitoring feature. Apple may explore designing around Masimo’s patents or altering the implementation enough to avoid infringement. But any changes would likely require new filings and approvals with health regulators.
The ITC ban only applies to the US market – Apple can still sell Apple Watches with full features in other countries globally. But the dispute raises questions around innovation and fair access to important health technologies. Ultimately, the two companies may need to reach some kind of licensing agreement or settlement.
With wearable medical devices becoming more prevalent, this case highlights the balance between protecting legitimate IP rights and enabling wider access to advancing health monitoring tools. For now, Apple Watch users in the US miss out on having the latest pulse oximetry features at their fingertips.
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