What the Upcoming Apple Watch Ban Means for You
If the ban goes into effect next month, some Apple Watches won't be imported or sold in stores.
When it comes to smartwatches, you have a few different options, from Fitbits to Garmin models. But Apple Watches are probably the most well-known variety—and they're particularly popular among existing Apple users thanks to their seamless pairing with AirPods and iPhones. These trendy accessories also make for great gifts, especially during the holiday season. But if an Apple Watch is on your shopping list, you should know that Apple is facing an impending ban on some of these devices. Read on to find out what a recent ruling means for you.
Apple is in a legal battle with a medical technology company.
On Oct. 26, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) decided to stop some Apple Watch imports into the U.S., ruling that Apple infringed on two patents held by medical technology company Masimo for its pulse oximeter—a kind of blood oxygen sensor now common with fitness watches, Forbes reported.
Because the ITC sided with Masimo, the new ban would prohibit Apple Watches with the sensor from being imported to the U.S., as well as the sale of "infringing products" that are already here, per Forbes.
According to Joe Kiani, founder, chairman, and CEO of Masimo, after meeting with Apple in 2013 to discuss the technology, Apple decided to avoid licensing fees and poached Masimo employees instead, per The New York Times. Apple has denied these allegations.
"Today's ruling by the USITC sends a powerful message that even the world's largest company is not above the law," Kiani said in a company press release. "This important determination is a strong validation of our efforts to hold Apple accountable for unlawfully misappropriating our patented technology."
Apple plans to appeal the ITC ruling.
Apple refuted claims that it infringed on Masimo's technology and told the Daily Mail that it plans to appeal the decision in federal court. Apple also filed a lawsuit against Masimo in Delaware federal court, alleging that the company is trying to "maneuver a clear path" for its own smartwatch, Reuters reported.
"Our teams work tirelessly to create products and services that empower users with industry-leading health, wellness and safety features," the company said in a statement to the Daily Mail. "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."
Best Life reached out to Apple and Masimo for comment and will update the story with their responses.
The sensor has been used in Apple Watches dating back to 2020.
According to the outlet, Apple first introduced the blood oxygen sensor in its Series 6 devices, which were introduced in 2020. All later models also have the technology, the Daily Mail reported. The watch is now in Series 9.
In accordance with the ruling, when the ban goes into effect, Apple will only be able to sell the SE model, per the Daily Mail. So, if you were planning to gift the latest Apple Watch or any of the newer series to a loved one, you'll want to head to the Apple Store sooner rather than later.
President Joe Biden has the right to overrule the decision.
According to Reuters, President Joe Biden's administration has 60 days to veto the import ban, and if he does not do so by Dec. 25, the ban will go into effect the following day. Apple Watches can still be purchased during this review period, John Presper, counsel at Foster, Murphy, Altman & Nickel, told Forbes.
However, Reuters points out that, historically, presidents have rarely vetoed these kinds of bans—and this is not the first time Biden has been faced with this decision.
Late last year, AliveCor also secured an import ban on Apple Watches after the ITC ruled in its favor in a separate patent dispute. (According to Forbes, the company uses artificial intelligence and sensors to monitor heart rate.) At the time, Biden didn't intervene, but the ban ended up being put on hold after Apple successfully had the underlying patents invalidated, Forbes reported. Both AliveCor and Apple have filed appeals cases.
There are other possible solutions to the legal battle.
While Biden could intervene, Apple could also opt to disable the blood oxygen sensor to avoid having to reach a settlement agreement. The company could also develop a redesign to avoid infringement on Masimo's patents, Presper told Forbes.
In a June 2023 legal filing, Apple responded to the ITC's questions about how easy it would be to remove infringing features and whether the company was working on a redesign. A large portion of the legal team's answer was redacted, aside from a line that reads, "It is impossible to say with certainty what actions Apple would take with respect to a redesign," Forbes reported.
Kiani also told the outlet that he would be "fine" with a redesign as opposed to a settlement, although he clarified that Masimo would still try to recoup past losses with a financial settlement.
In general, experts believe that a settlement is the most likely resolution, with Horace Dediu, founder and technology analyst at Asymco, telling Forbes that there's a low chance Apple would issue a redesign, as changing the watches' hardware could take years.