Apple has been forced to remove the blood oxygen sensor from its latest Apple Watch models, the Series 9 and Ultra 2, due to an ongoing legal dispute with medical technology company Masimo. This is the latest development in a long-running patent battle between the two companies.
Background of the Legal Dispute
The legal dispute centers around Masimo’s patents related to pulse oximetry, the technology used to measure blood oxygen levels. Apple has been accused of infringing on two Masimo patents with the blood oxygen app on the Apple Watch since its introduction in 2020.
Masimo first sued Apple back in January 2020, alleging that Apple stole its trade secrets and incorporated Masimo innovations into the Apple Watch without permission. A trade secrets trial is scheduled to begin on April 3.
In a separate patent infringement case, the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in November 2022 that Apple infringed on Masimo’s patents and banned imports of Apple Watches with the blood oxygen measurement feature.
|Key Events in Apple-Masimo Legal Battle
|Masimo files lawsuits against Apple alleging trade secret theft and patent infringement related to Apple Watch pulse oximetry features
|ITC bans import of Apple Watches with blood oxygen sensor due to patent infringement
|Ban paused pending Apple appeal
|Appeals court reinstates import ban
|January 18, 2023
|Import ban goes into effect
Apple appealed the ITC’s import ban in December 2022 and managed to get it temporarily paused. However, earlier this week on January 17th, the appeals court denied Apple’s appeal and reinstated the import ban.
Apple Forced to Remove Blood Oxygen App
With the import ban going back into effect on January 18, 2023, Apple has been forced to quickly make changes to the Apple Watch design for models set to launch later this year.
Specifically, Apple will remove the pulse oximetry capabilities and blood oxygen measurement app from the upcoming Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to allow these devices to be imported into the U.S.
“Apple will remove the pulse oximeter hardware entirely from Series 9 models rather than just disabling it in software,” reported Mark Gurman of Bloomberg.
Without this key health sensor, the latest Apple Watches will no longer be able to measure a user’s blood oxygen saturation or detect possible breathing issues while sleeping. These features have been touted by Apple in recent years as key health benefits of the device.
Industry & Consumer Impacts
This last minute design change to remove the blood oxygen sensor will likely create some disruption and impacts across Apple’s supply chain. Analysts expect it will also negatively impact sales, as this feature has helped Apple charge premium prices for the higher-end models. Surveys show health and medical capabilities have become top purchase drivers for smartwatch consumers.
There may also be some confusion and backlash from consumers who have come to expect blood oxygen measurement capabilities in all new Apple Watch releases. However, Apple does not appear to have much choice in the matter unless it can reach a settlement with Masimo before the Series 9 and Ultra 2 begin shipping later this year.
On the industry side, the removal of this key feature from Apple’s flagship smartwatches may open up opportunities for competitors like Garmin and Fitbit to tout their own pulse oximetry capabilities as unique selling points over Apple. These competitors have not faced similar import bans related to their smartwatch technologies.
Looking ahead, it remains to be seen whether Apple and Masimo can reach an agreement to allow Apple to reincorporate blood oxygen measurement capabilities into future Apple Watch models.
If no settlement is reached before the April 2023 trial kicks off, the legal battle could rage on for years and result in even more product design limitations or sales bans. Masimo is seeking damages up to $3 billion according to some analyst estimates.
On Apple’s side, while the company generates significant revenue from its Wearables, Home and Accessories category (which includes Apple Watch), the near term financial impacts may be limited by the fact that Apple Watch only makes up a small percentage of the company’s overall revenue. However, there are risks of reputational damage the longer this legal fight drags on.
As Bloomberg’s Gurman opined, while Apple may have a short term fix to evade the import ban, the company “will eventually have to settle this dispute to restore the functionality to future models.” So for Apple Watch fans hoping to once again have blood oxygen capabilities in future devices, a lot may ride on the outcome of the looming Masimo trial this spring.
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