Apple fights back: Watch ban appeal as blood oxygen patent war heats up

Tech company challenges import restrictions after Masimo wins key ruling on pulse oximetry tech

The ban on Apple's latest smartwatch models came into effect on Tuesday, with the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 no longer available in stores or online. AFP
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Apple announced on Tuesday its intention to appeal a US import ban on its latest smartwatch models.

The decision comes after US President Joe Biden's administration chose not to veto a ruling regarding patent infringements.

The ban affects Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 models, which are no longer available in stores or online as of Tuesday.

This move is a part of a broader legal battle in the tech industry over valuable patents, similar to the continuing dispute between Google and Sonos over speaker technology.

The US International Trade Commission had decided in October to ban these Apple Watch models due to a patented technology related to blood-oxygen level detection.

The complaint, originating in mid-2021, was filed by medical device maker Masimo Corp, accusing Apple of infringing on their “light-based oximetry functionality”.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, following consultations, opted not to reverse the ITC's decision, making the ban effective as of December 26.

While the US President's office holds the authority to reverse such bans, it is an infrequent occurrence.

Masimo views the ban as a victory for the US patent system and consumers, supporting innovation. Meanwhile, Apple strongly disagrees with the ITC's decision, having already filed an appeal in US federal court.

The company pre-emptively pulled the products from its online store on December 21, ceasing sales at retail locations by December 24.

Apple has been enhancing the health and fitness features of its watches with each generation.

The Apple Watch Series 9, released in September, included increased performance and health data accessibility.

Masimo claims to have invented the disputed technology and alleges that Apple hired its employees to gain access to this knowledge.

In contrast, Apple accuses Masimo of using litigation to promote its own products inspired by the Apple Watch.

Masimo's product recently received US regulatory clearance for both prescription and over-the-counter use.

In response to the ban, Apple also filed patent infringement lawsuits against Masimo. However, a jury trial on Masimo's allegations ended in a mistrial in May.

Apple's appeal and the continuing dispute highlight the intense competition and legal complexities in the tech industry, especially regarding patents and innovation.

Apple Watch, a significant product in Apple's portfolio, has been a market leader in the smartwatch category.

The dispute with Masimo represents a critical challenge for Apple, impacting its strategy and product offerings. The outcome of this legal battle could have broader implications for patent law and innovation in the tech industry.

Updated: December 28, 2023, 5:13 AM