Appeals court pauses ban on patent-infringing Apple Watch imports

Enlarge / The Apple Watch Series 9 released in September 2023.


Just before Christmas, Apple pulled two of its latest smartwatches from stores. The cause was not an unwelcome visit from the ghost of mechanical timepieces past but the International Trade Commission, which found that the California-based computer maker had infringed on some patents, resulting in the ITC banning the import of said watches. Yesterday, Reuters reported that Apple filed an emergency request for the courts to lift the ban and will appeal the ITC ruling.

And today, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted Apple’s wish, pausing the ban while it considers the tech company’s argument.

Apple’s watch problems started back in January. That’s when a court found that the light-based pulse oximetry sensor (found on the back of the watches) infringed patents held by Masimo, a medical device manufacturer also based in California.

At the time, Apple said since Masimo was not a consumer-focused company, it chose not to collaborate or acquire the medical device maker. Masimo, for its part, said that Apple led it on in discussions then took its idea and hired away Masimo engineers.

In October, the ITC upheld the ruling of infringement and started the process to ban imports of the watches, giving US President Joe Biden’s administration 60 days to review the case and possibly veto the ruling.

But the Biden administration has chosen not to interfere, unlike in 2013 when the Obama administration vetoed a ban on iPhones and iPads during a patent dispute between Apple and Samsung. Although the ITC’s import ban on Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models was supposed to go into effect on December 26, Apple pulled the watches from sale a few days early. The older Apple Watch SE, which doesn’t use the infringing blood oxygen sensor, remains on sale.

“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.

Apple had asked the CAFC to pause the ban until US Customs and Border Protection decides whether redesigned Apple Watches no longer infringe on Masimo’s patents, a decision that should be reached by January 12. Now the court has given the ITC a deadline of January 10 to respond to Apple.

This article was updated shortly after publication to reflect the court pausing the import ban.

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