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Apple Watch facing potential ban after losing Masimo patent case

Two smartwatches are intertwined in this promotional image.
Enlarge / The Apple Watch Series 6.

The Apple Watch violates patents owned by California-based Masimo, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled on Thursday [PDF]. The federal agency issued a limited exclusion order for the smartwatches, meaning the Apple Watch is in jeopardy of an import ban.

The ITC’s ruling upholds a January ruling that found that the Apple Watch infringed on a Masimo patent. The exclusion period recommended on Thursday is supposed to go into effect after 60 days, during which time President Joe Biden can overturn the ruling. Biden previously declined to veto an ITC ruling that found the Apple Watch violated patents of a different company, AliveCor.

The debate is over Masimo’s light-based pulse oximetry. The ITC’s ruling doesn’t specify which watches are affected. But the first Apple Watch to feature blood oxygen monitoring was the Apple Watch Series 6, which came out in 2020.

Masimo has accused Apple of entering discussions with it for a potential partnership, including a potential acquisition, in 2013, only to steal Masimo’s idea and poach some of Masimo’s engineers to implement it.

In a statement quoted by The Wall Street Journal this week, however, an Apple representative said that Masimo was just “one of many medical-technology companies” Apple held meetings with during that time period. The tech giant also claimed that it declined working with Masimo because it’s not a consumer-focused company.

Reuters quoted an Apple spokesperson as saying:

Masimo has wrongly attempted to use the ITC to keep a potentially lifesaving product from millions of US consumers while making way for their own watch that copies Apple. While today’s decision has no immediate impact on sales of Apple Watch, we believe it should be reversed and will continue our efforts to appeal.

At this point, it’s unlikely that the Apple Watch will be outright banned. As stated above, Apple may appeal the ITC’s ruling via the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit after the presidential review period. The company could also change the Apple Watch or try to reach a settlement with Masimo to avoid a ban.

According to a press release from Masimo Thursday, comments from 24 “academic institutions, leading antitrust and intellectual property scholars, physicians, investors, nonprofits, and members of Congress were filed in support of the public’s interest in the exclusion order.”

Joe Kiani, founder, chairman, and CEO of Masimo, in a statement said:

Today’s ruling by the USITC sends a powerful message that even the world’s largest company is not above the law. This important determination is a strong validation of our efforts to hold Apple accountable for unlawfully misappropriating our patented technology.

Other Apple Watch patent disputes

As noted by Reuters, Apple and Masimo’s legal battles are ongoing. In May, Masimo’s lawsuit against Apple in California federal court ended in a mistrial, and Apple has also sued Masimo in Delaware. Flipping the script, Apple has accused [PDF] Masimo’s W1 smartwatches of violating Apple Watch patents.

Meanwhile, Apple is also in an Apple Watch patent battle with California-based AliveCor. AliveCor is currently appealing the revocation of three patents that it claims the Apple Watch infringes upon. Before then, the ITC ruled that the Apple Watch infringes [PDF] on electrocardiogram sensor-related patents. But there’s no import ban in effect because the US Patent and Trademark Office revoked the patents in question. Like Masimo, AliveCor has accused Apple of initiating a potential partnership but ultimately poaching AliveCor workers and infringing on its patents instead.

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