Apple Cleared to Resume Flagship Smartwatch Sales Amid Legal Battle

Apple can now restart sales of its primary smartwatches after a U.S. appeals court temporarily halted a government commission’s import ban on these devices, imposed due to a patent dispute involving medical monitoring technology, Reuters news report.

Launch of Apple Watch Series 9
@Apple

The tech giant swiftly sought relief, urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to halt the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) order. The ITC had previously ruled that Apple violated patents owned by Masimo, a company based in Irvine, California.

A final decision in this dispute could lead to substantial financial repercussions for either company and might necessitate a settlement or some form of technological workaround by Apple, analysts noted. However, they suggested that any financial impact on Apple might pale in comparison to the negative publicity generated by the lawsuit.

“We are thrilled to return the full Apple Watch lineup to customers in time for the new year,” Apple announced in a statement. “Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, including the blood oxygen feature, will become available for purchase again in the United States at Apple Stores starting today and from apple.com tomorrow by 12 pm PT.”

Masimo chose not to comment on the court’s decision.

The ITC ban affected the imports and sales of Apple Watches equipped with blood-oxygen level reading technology. Apple had introduced a pulse oximeter feature in its smartwatches starting with the Series 6 model in 2020.

Masimo’s allegations against Apple include claims of employee poaching, theft of pulse oximetry technology, and its integration into Apple Watches. Apple, in response, has countersued, alleging that Masimo’s legal actions are an attempt to pave the way for its competing smartwatch.

Stuart Cole, Equiti Capital’s chief macro economist, mentioned, “Apple can easily develop their own blood monitoring software… The bigger issue is the negative PR suggesting Apple is stealing technology.”

The appeals court, in a concise ruling, temporarily halted the ban while considering Apple’s plea for an extended pause during the appeals process. The court has given the ITC until Jan. 10 to respond to Apple’s request.

Despite the Biden administration’s decision not to veto the ban on Tuesday, Apple swiftly sought a pause later that day. The company has been exploring legal and technical alternatives and informed the court about U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s ongoing assessment of redesigned watch versions for patent infringement.

The affected devices had been removed from Apple’s website and retail stores last week in the U.S., but they remained available through various retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Costco, and Walmart. However, the ban did not impact the Apple Watch SE, a model lacking a pulse oximeter, nor did it affect previously sold watches.

Apple’s wearables, home, and accessory business, inclusive of the Apple Watch and AirPods, generated $8.28 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2023, as per the company’s report.

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