Biden administration declines to veto ban on Apple Watch imports

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The Biden administration has decided not to intervene in a government tribunal’s ruling that bans the import of certain Apple Watches, based on a complaint filed by medical monitoring technology company Masimo. The decision means that the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) order will go into effect on December 26, barring the import and sale of Apple Watches that incorporate patent-infringing technology used for reading blood-oxygen levels.

The dispute centers around Apple’s inclusion of a pulse oximeter feature in its smartwatches, starting with the Series 6 model released in 2020. Masimo alleges that Apple’s technology infringes on its patents and has accused Apple of hiring away its employees to incorporate its pulse oximetry technology into the Apple Watch.

Despite Apple’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, the ITC’s decision stands, with the ban also covering Apple’s Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches. Apple has paused sales of these models in the U.S., but they remain available from other retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. However, the ban does not affect the sale of the less expensive Apple Watch SE, nor does it impact previously sold watches.

The ITC’s ruling marks a significant development in the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Masimo. While a jury trial in California federal court ended with a mistrial in May, Apple has separately sued Masimo for patent infringement in federal court in Delaware. Apple has characterized Masimo’s legal actions as a strategic move to clear a path for its own competing smartwatch.

This decision by the Biden administration not to veto the ITC’s ruling is consistent with its stance in similar cases. In February, the administration declined to veto another import ban on Apple Watches based on a patent-infringement complaint from medical technology company AliveCor. The ITC had placed that ban on hold for other reasons.

Apple’s wearables, home, and accessory business, which includes the Apple Watch, AirPods earbuds, and other products, generated $8.28 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2023, according to a company report. Despite these legal challenges, Apple remains a dominant force in the wearable technology market.

As the legal battle continues, the fate of Apple’s smartwatches in the U.S. market hangs in the balance, with both Apple and Masimo vying for a favorable outcome.

(Source: Reuters | CNBC | The Verge | CNN)

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