Apple has come up with a way to avoid a recently imposed import ban on certain models of the Apple Watch – by removing the blood oxygen measurement feature from the device’s software.
Background of the Import Ban
The import ban, which would have prevented Apple from selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the US, stems from a patent dispute with medical device maker Masimo. In December 2023, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that certain Apple Watches infringed on Masimo patents related to pulse oximeter technology, which measures oxygen saturation in the blood.
By a vote of 6-2, the ITC issued an import ban order which would have prevented Apple from importing and selling the infringing devices. The ban was set to go into effect on January 15th, 2024.
Apple appealed the decision, but was denied a stay on the ban by the ITC while the appeal played out. This put Apple in the position of having to stop sales of the latest Apple Watch models or face hefty fines.
Apple’s Solution – Remove Blood Oxygen App
Faced with an imminent import ban that would have affected its newest smartwatch models, Apple came up with a simple fix – remove the blood oxygen measurement feature from the devices.
As reported by multiple news outlets, Apple will drop the blood oxygen app from the software on the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models. This change is enough for the devices to no longer infringe on Masimo’s patents, according to a January 15th announcement from US Customs:
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has determined that the redesigned Apple Watches do not infringe the patents asserted against older models and are thus not subject to an importation ban.”
By disabling just the blood oxygen measurement feature, Apple’s newest watches will be importable and sellable while the company continues its appeal against the ITC decision.
Analysts see the move as a clever way for Apple to comply with the import ban while minimizing the impact on its product lineup:
“It shows Apple’s legal savvy that it worked out a software fix that quickly remedies its infringement issues without more expensive tweaks to hardware.” Source
Impact on Consumers
For most Apple Watch customers, the removal of the blood oxygen app will have little noticeable effect. As critics have noted, the feature provides limited practical value for most users anyway:
“The pulse oximeter…doesn’t provide users actionable data. It’s a ‘nice to have’ feature that ultimately gives most consumers little utility in improving their health.” Source
While the blood oxygen measurement capability made for nice marketing copy and seemed cutting edge, in reality it has not seen widespread adoption among Apple Watch owners.
Still, the move represents a scaling back of features for Apple’s newest watch models. And it grants a partial win to competitor Masimo in the ongoing legal fight between the companies.
Masimo provided this response:
“Apple is removing this feature in its latest watches, showing that infringement of Masimo’s innovations comes at a price.” Source
What Happens Next
The removal of the blood oxygen app buys Apple time while it continues its appeal against the ITC import ban. Apple is seeking a review of the decision by the full Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
If Apple wins its appeal case, it would likely restore the blood oxygen measurement feature to the Apple Watch via a software update.
If Apple loses, it will have to make more substantive hardware changes to avoid infringing on Masimo’s patents. That could involve redesigning future Apple Watch models to use a different type of pulse oximeter technology.
For now, Apple’s quick software fix averts supply chain problems and allows customers to keep buying the latest Apple Watches as the legal process plays out over the coming months. But it represents the first functional downgrade caused by Apple’s ongoing patent battle with Masimo.
Timeline of Key Events in Apple-Masimo Dispute
|Masimo first sues Apple over patent infringement related to pulse oximeter technology in the Apple Watch.
|The ITC rules that Apple infringed on 4 Masimo patents; imposes import ban on Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra models.
|ITC expands import ban order to also cover Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2.
|January 15, 2024
|Deadline arrives for Apple to comply with import ban.
|January 15, 2024
|Apple announces removal of blood oxygen app to avoid infringement; US Customs allows import under new design.
The Apple-Masimo legal fight still has a ways to go, but Apple’s quick reaction saved its latest Apple Watch lineup from being banned in the US – even if it meant downgrading features. We’ll have to wait for the appeals court ruling to know who wins this battle in the longer run.
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