In a recent development, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has taken a step that could potentially result in a ban on the import of Apple Watches, as it found that these devices infringe on the patent rights of medical technology firm Masimo. This decision stems from an earlier ruling in January where a judge concluded that Apple had violated Masimo's patent related to light-based technology for blood-oxygen level measurements.
While this decision is significant, it is important to note that it will not have an immediate impact, as it awaits a presidential review and the possibility of appeals. The Biden administration has a 60-day window to determine whether to veto the import ban based on policy considerations. Historically, presidential vetoes of such bans have been rare.
Following the review period, Apple will have the option to appeal the ban to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
An Apple spokesperson responded to the ITC's decision, expressing concern that Masimo was attempting to prevent millions of U.S. consumers from accessing a potentially life-saving product, all the while promoting its own watch that appears to mimic Apple's technology. The spokesperson emphasized that, although the ruling has no immediate impact on Apple Watch sales, they intend to continue their efforts to appeal the decision.
Masimo's CEO, Joe Kiani, welcomed the ITC's decision, highlighting that it sends a powerful message that even the world's largest companies are not exempt from legal obligations.
It's worth noting that the ITC decision did not specify which Apple Watch models would be subject to the import ban. Masimo's initial complaint, filed in 2021, alleged that the 2020 Apple Watch Series 6, the first model equipped with blood-oxygen monitoring capabilities, infringed upon its patents. Masimo claimed that the infringing Apple Watches were manufactured in China, although Apple has since shifted some of its production to Vietnam.
This case is just one part of an ongoing intellectual property battle between Apple and Masimo that spans multiple jurisdictions. Masimo has accused Apple of appropriating its technology for use in various Apple Watch models. In a California federal court, a jury trial regarding Masimo's allegations ended in a mistrial in May.
Conversely, Apple has filed a separate lawsuit against Masimo for patent infringement in federal court in Delaware, alleging that Masimo's legal actions were merely a tactic to clear a path for its own competing smartwatch.
In a related matter, Apple is also confronting an import ban on Apple Watches in a separate patent dispute with medical technology company AliveCor. The ITC had issued a ban in February, but it was placed on hold during proceedings concerning the validity of AliveCor's patents.
Apple's wearables, home, and accessory business, which includes the Apple Watch, AirPods earbuds, and other products, generated $8.28 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2023, according to a company report.