In response to the decision by the US International Trade Commission, Apple expresses strong disagreement but states its commitment to comply with the imposed ban. Beginning Thursday morning, modified versions of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2, excluding the blood oxygen sensing feature, will be offered for sale on Apple’s website and in its US retail stores. The company assures that previously purchased Watch models with the sensor will not be affected. It seems like the latest Apple Watch models are facing a temporary pause in their availability.
Federal court ruling mandates Apple to cease the sale of the current versions of Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 by the end of Thursday.
In late 2023, the US International Trade Commission prohibited Apple from selling the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 due to a patent dispute concerning the technology used in their blood-oxygen sensors. Apple, in response, appealed the decision and secured a temporary stay on the ban while the case underwent court review.
However, on Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit opted not to extend the stay, compelling Apple to halt the sales of the two Watch models. This decision initiates a prolonged journey for Apple toward a formal appeal. The ban is set to be reinstated at 5 pm Eastern on Thursday, January 18.
The US International Trade Commission (ITC) initially prohibited the sale of the Apple Watch due to a patent dispute initiated by medical technology company Masimo, which filed a lawsuit against Apple in 2021. Masimo claimed that Apple had violated its patents for a smartwatch sensor utilizing lights to measure blood oxygen concentration. This sensor technology was introduced in the Apple Watch Series 6 and has persisted in the design of subsequent models, including the current Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 (as Apple discontinued older models with the introduction of new ones, leaving only the 9 and Ultra 2 subject to the ban). A federal judge sided with Masimo, affirming that Apple had indeed infringed on the company’s patents, and the ITC upheld this ruling in October 2023.
Since then, the fate of the latest Apple Watch models has been uncertain. Following the ruling, Apple took proactive measures to comply with the impending ban. Just before Christmas, the company removed the watches from its physical and online stores, although they remained available through online retailers like Amazon and non-Apple brick-and-mortar stores during the holiday season. The sales hiatus lasted a few days, resumed shortly after Christmas, only to pause again this week.
Apple intends to file an appeal in federal court to challenge the ban on selling Series 9 or Ultra 2 smartwatches equipped with the blood-oxygen sensing technology. However, the resolution of this appeal may extend over a year, with no certainty of a favorable outcome for the company. During this period, Apple is prohibited from selling smartwatches featuring the contested sensor.
To comply with the ban, Apple has devised a workaround, utilizing a software update to deactivate the problematic sensor in existing smartwatches. Additionally, the company has redesigned the new Watch models, removing the sensing capability entirely. Reports from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman suggest that Apple has already shipped these modified versions to Apple Stores, with instructions to commence sales once the ban is enforced.
It’s worth noting that Wednesday’s court ruling does not impact the Watch Series 8, which still includes the blood oxygen sensor and remains available at various stores. The ban imposed by the International Trade Commission (ITC) pertains to imports, so previously imported watches are unaffected. Furthermore, the Watch SE, lacking blood-tracking sensors, remains unaffected by the ban and continues to be Apple’s most budget-friendly option in the Apple Watch lineup.