Recent developments have placed Apple’s iconic smartwatch at the crossroads of intricate patent battles and pivotal legal decisions. Central to the unfolding drama is a patent infringement accusation by California-based medical technology company Masimo. With the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) recent ruling against the tech giant, the Apple Watch may face an import ban, potentially disrupting its supply and sales in the U.S. This article delves into the details of the patent dispute, the stakes involved for both parties and the broader implications for the tech and health industries.
The ITC’s Ruling
The Apple Watch, one of the most popular wearable devices globally, finds itself on shaky ground as it potentially faces an import ban in the US. The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) recently upheld a previous ruling that the Apple Watch infringes patents owned by medical technology company Masimo. Specifically, the bone of contention is over Masimo’s light-based pulse oximetry technology.
The ITC’s decision could jeopardize the import of the Apple Watch into the US.
It remains uncertain which Apple Watch models the ban would affect. However, it’s noteworthy that the Apple Watch Series 6, introduced in 2020, was the first to feature blood oxygen monitoring.
Apple has 60 days during which President Joe Biden can choose to overturn the ruling.
The origins of this dispute trace back to 2013, when Masimo accused Apple of discussing a potential partnership or even an acquisition. Masimo alleges that Apple then stole their idea and even poached some of Masimo’s engineers to integrate the technology into their watch.
Apple denies these accusations, stating that it held meetings with several medical-technology companies at the time and chose not to work with Masimo.
Apple spokesperson’s statement, as quoted by Reuters: “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.”
What Lies Ahead
Despite the unsettling ITC decision, it’s unlikely that the Apple Watch will face an outright ban. Apple has multiple routes available to navigate this situation:
Apple may appeal the ITC’s ruling via the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit after the presidential review period.
The tech giant could modify the Apple Watch to sidestep the infringed patents.
Apple may also seek a settlement with Masimo to prevent a ban.
Support for Masimo
Masimo has garnered significant support in its fight against Apple:
24 “academic institutions, leading antitrust and intellectual property scholars, physicians, investors, nonprofits, and members of Congress” have voiced their backing.
Joe Kiani, founder, chairman, and CEO of Masimo, emphasized that even the world’s largest companies should be held accountable.
Apple’s Patent Wars
Apple’s patent disputes aren’t limited to Masimo:
Masimo and Apple continue their legal battles. A previous lawsuit by Masimo against Apple resulted in a mistrial. Additionally, Apple has sued Masimo in Delaware and accused Masimo’s W1 smartwatches of violating Apple Watch patents.
Apple is concurrently embroiled in another patent battle with California-based AliveCor. The ITC had ruled that Apple infringed on AliveCor’s patents, but no import ban is in effect due to patent revocation by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Implications and Broader Perspective
If the import ban is enacted, this would represent a significant blow to Apple, potentially preventing the import of Apple Watches that incorporate the contentious light-based sensors. Notably, this isn’t the first time such a decision has been made. In a separate case involving AliveCor, the ITC previously issued a ban against the Apple Watch.
Furthermore, Apple claims that a potential sales ban would have negative ramifications for US consumers and public health at large. Apple argues that Masimo initiated the patent dispute to clear a market path for its own smartwatch.
As the appeal process advances, the tech community, consumers, and investors will be closely monitoring the unfolding events, given the significant implications for both Apple’s business and the broader wearables market.