Breaking: appeals court continues ITC ban on Apple Watches with working pulse oximetry (updated)

Breaking  US appeals court lifts temporary injunction, bans sale of new pulse oximetry-functioning Watch 9 and Ultra 2. Yesterday, the US Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit dropped the first shoe and that landed against Apple’s head. The court ruled against continuing the short-term stay against the sale and importation of new Watch 9 and Ultra 2 watches equipped with functioning pulse oximetry (blood oxygen, SpO2). That ban is now in effect. The ban is a result of the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) Limited Exclusion Order that found that Apple violated Masimo’s patents on pulse oximetry (SpO2) sensors and software that became effective on 31 December.

Apple’s workaround was to disable the pulse oximetry software for new watches they sell in Apple Stores and ship to third parties.  The hardware is still inside, but readings are disabled by the watchOS. These new versions have a /A after the model number. This workaround allows the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s Exclusion Order Enforcement (EOE) branch to permit new Watch 9 and Ultra 2 watches to be imported and sold. TTA 17 Jan

Reports have confirmed that existing models that were already sold or distributed before the ban through retailers will continue to have working SpO2 software. The court decision does not require pushing a software update that disables the blood oxygen reading. These pre-ban Watches sold by third parties and on the used market do not have the /A after the model number. Other Apple Watch models that never had the pulse oximetry feature were unaffected by the ban.

Of note, the appeals court cleverly separated the Apple Watch importation from the appeal of the ITC ruling. That ‘other shoe’ is a decision on whether Apple can appeal the ITC ruling, initiating the long appeals process. That decision is pending but due shortly. See TTA 28 Dec 2023 for the timeline.

Another possible outcome is that Apple settles with Masimo at some point, an action that seems obvious, but not in Apple’s suites. CNBC, 9to5Mac has the best explanation of the model changes with commenters reflecting the split jury on whether SpO2 readings are all that critical for Watchaholics. This story is developing and will be updated.

Update 19 Jan   This Editor enjoyed reading Strate-gee’s writeup on the latest developments in Masimo v. Apple. He digs into the roots of the dispute which go quite far back, to 2022 and Apple’s poaching of Masimo employees working directly on their pulse oximetry including their chief medical officer and chief scientist. The first employee went to Apple and then started his own company. He was found to have appropriated Masimo’s trade secrets and technology. Another finding: in the Masimo letter to the appeals court (included in the article) stating that the redesign of the Apple Watch “eliminates any irreparable harm”, part of the EOE proceeding is confidential and thus the EOE decision document is not public. His speculation is that this may be a key to whether the already in circulation Watch 9 and Ultra 2 models will in future have their blood oxygen reading disabled via an Apple software update.


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