Update: Apple Watches back on sale after appeal

Update: Apple Watches back on sale after appeal

Apple has resumed the sale of some of its smartwatches in the US, after filing an emergency appeal against a decision by the Biden administration not to veto a ban on imports.

Sales of the Series 9 and Ultra 2 Apple Watches had been paused in the US over a complaint that the devices violate patents held by Masimo on the use of wearables to measure blood oxygen levels.

Earlier this week, US Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai declined to veto an earlier International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling that concluded some Apple Watches infringe intellectual property on the use of light-based pulse oximetry, namely US patent numbers 10,912,502 or 10,945,648, attributed to Masimo and Cercacor Labs.

That limited exclusion order – which upheld an earlier ITC ruling – meant Apple was unable to import Apple Watches that include light-based pulse oximetry technology unless it negotiated a license to Masimo’s intellectual property.

The tech giant subsequently filed an emergency request with the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to pause the import ban until US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) decides whether re-designed versions of the watches circumvent the IP and import ban, according to a Reuters report.

That has resulted in a temporary stay on the sales ban, which Apple complied with earlier this month in anticipation of the USTR ruling. For now, the smartwatches will continue to be sold until the CBP makes its decision on the matter, expected by 12th January.

The tech giant’s entry-level Apple Watch SE has remained on sale as it does not feature the pulse oximetry technology, which Apple started adding to its devices with the Series 6 Apple Watch, which launched in 2020.

“On October 26, 2023, the US International Trade Commission found that Apple, Inc. infringed two patents owned by Masimo Corporation and Cercacor Laboratories, Inc, both based in the US,” said the USTR in a statement.

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

Masimo previously brought a legal dispute against Apple alleging patent infringement and seeking $1.85 billion in damages, but that resulted in a hung jury. It also accused Apple of poaching its staff and appropriating its technology.

Apple said in a statement that it “strongly disagrees with the [ITC] decision and resulting exclusion order” and is “taking all measures to return Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to customers in the US as soon as possible.”

Pulse oximetry is increasingly being used for remote and self-monitoring of blood oxygen in wearables, and Masimo sells a range of devices for patient monitoring purposes including a recently approved baby monitoring system and the watch-based Masimo W1.

The company has annual revenues of around $2 billion a year, compared to Apple’s revenues of almost $400 billion. The Apple Watch dominates the smartwatch market with around 50 million units sold last year, taking the total sold since it launched in 2015 to around 230 million.