Apple’s redesigned flagship smartwatches not banned from import, says US customs

In a move aimed at sidestepping a US ban on its latest smartwatches, Apple has revealed plans to eliminate the blood-oxygen feature from its Series 9 and Ultra 2 models. This maneuver is a direct response to an ongoing patent dispute with Masimo Corp., the medical devices company whose patent claim resulted in Apple getting banned from selling its flagship smart. And according to the US Customs and Border Protection, the redesigned Apple watches are not subject to an import ban in the US.

The foundation of this unfolding scenario is the US International Trade Commission’s (ITC) verdict in October, which asserted that Apple’s devices, including the Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches, infringed upon Masimo’s patents related to blood-oxygen measurement technology. This compelled Apple to temporarily suspend sales of these smartwatches just ahead of the crucial holiday shopping season, resulting in a significant disruption (although they remained available on other US retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Costco and Walmart). Currently, the modified Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches have already been shipped to retail locations in the US, although they are unlikely to be sold until they receive the green light from Apple’s corporate offices.

Responding swiftly to the ban, Apple devised a software workaround designed to address the patent dispute. The company presented this solution to the US Customs and Border Protection agency, the entity responsible for enforcing import bans. Apple’s argument pivoted on the redesigned watches “definitively” lacking the contested technology, known as pulse oximetry. According to Masimo, the Customs agency granted approval for Apple’s redesign on January 12, marking a pivotal moment in Apple’s quest to continue marketing its smartwatches. “Apple’s claim that its redesigned watch does not contain pulse oximetry is a positive step toward accountability,” Masimo commented on the matter. “It is especially important that one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies respects the intellectual property rights of smaller companies and complies with ITC orders when it is caught infringing.”

While the Customs agency’s decision has not been publicly disclosed, it was shared with the concerned parties. Lawyers representing Masimo assert that the agency determined Apple’s redesign falls beyond the scope of the ITC’s import ban. Apple’s claim that the redesigned watches lack pulse oximetry functionality is viewed by Masimo as a positive step toward accountability, underscoring the importance of respecting intellectual property rights. With expectations of a ruling on its motion for a stay from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Apple foresees a protracted appeal period, potentially lasting a year or more.

The decision to eliminate the blood-oxygen feature raises pertinent questions about the impact on existing Apple smartwatch users and the tech giant’s ability to sustain its competitive edge in the wearables market. Simultaneously, Masimo perceives the Customs decision as a favorable development, signifying accountability on the part of a tech behemoth for intellectual property rights and adherence to ITC orders.