US bans Apple Watch amid patent dispute

US bans Apple Watch amid patent dispute

Apple has been barred from selling one of its best known products amid claims it stole the technology from a much smaller company.

Tech giant Apple has been banned from selling the latest version of the Apple Watch in the US, amid claims it stole the technology from a much smaller company.

Apple has now removed all affected versions of the Watch from sale.

It’s a huge blow for the California based company which reportedly received $US39.8 billion ($A58.3bn) in revenue during 2023 for wearables which includes the Apple Watch, Air Pods and other accessories.

Analysts have suggested the Watch alone brings in $US23.8bn ($A34bn) according to Dow Jones Market Watch.

The ban centres around pulse oximetry technology, a broad group of technologies that measure the amount of oxygen in the blood.

Medical technology company Masimo has a patent for a version of pulse oximetry technology and accused Apple of hiring away its employees, stealing the tech and incorporating it in the Apple Watch series 6 and subsequent models.

The US International Trade Commission (USITC) sided with Masimo and barred imports and sales of Apple Watches that use the technology. US president Joe Biden’s administration had until Christmas Day to reverse the ban but declined to do so.

Apple has been accused of stealing the tech used in some Apple Watches. Picture: Michael M Santiago / Getty Images via AFP

What happened after the Apple Watch ban?

The USITC’s decision became final on December 26, after which point Apple was banned from importing or selling Apple Watches that use pulse oximetry technology allegedly stolen from Masimo.

The company had previously paused sales of series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches, which are the two current models believed to be impacted by the ban.

The ban applies only to Apple and its “affiliated companies, parents, subsidiaries, or other related business entities.” It is not believed to affect other retailers that stock Apple Watches, such as Amazon, where series 9 and Ultra 2 watches were still available to purchase after December 26.

The ban does not affect the Apple Watch SE, a cheaper model that does not include pulse oximetry technology and will continue to be sold. Previously sold watches are also not affected.

Patents are territorial and thus the ban does not impact countries outside the US.

What happens next?

On Tuesday, the same day the ban came into effect, Apple filed an appeal and emergency request to have it overturned.

“We strongly disagree with the USITC decision and resulting exclusion order, and are taking all measures to return Apple Watch series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to customers in the US as soon as possible,” Apple said in a statement.

The firm, worth $4.4 trillion, asked for the ban to be paused at least until a decision is made as to whether redesigned versions of its watches infringed Masimo’s patents. That decision is due to be made on January 12, Apple said.

Apple is reportedly working on software changes that would enable its watches to operate without infringing Masimo’s patents. It could resume importing and selling the watches if that workaround is approved.

Masimo, however, has said its patents cover hardware and thus a software fix would not work.

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