Apple Watch 9, Ultra 2 available again for sale–at least well into January, as appeals court decides. It should come as no surprise that Apple quickly appealed the US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling of 26 October that prohibited Apple from importing either model and won a temporary stay of enforcement. The ITC ruling found that Apple in the Series 6 and later violated Masimo’s patents on pulse oximetry (SpO2) sensors and software. ITC rulings are sent to the US president in a 60-day process that ended in no presidential veto and thus final approval on 25 December. Apple, anticipating compliance and moving in an orderly fashion, pulled both models from online sale 3 pm Eastern Time on Thursday 21 December, while Store sales ended on Christmas Eve. [TTA 21 Dec]
On Tuesday 26 December (Boxing Day), Apple filed for an emergency stay of the ban in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which was granted almost immediately, on Wednesday 27 December. This prevents Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from enforcing the import ban until the court can consider Apple’s motion to stay the ban pending its full appeal. The timeline now, after this emergency stay, is that the ITC has until 10 January 10 to file its opposition, with Apple’s reply due on 15 January. If the court grants Apple its desire for a full appeal after that and to stay enforcement of the Limited Exclusion Order (LEO) until that appeal is decided, the enforcement timeline then typically pushes forward another 18 months. Masimo is contesting the action saying there was no emergency as Apple had already stopped selling their watches with pulse oximetry features. Apple, as the infringer on Masimo’s patents as found by the ITC, has to show the court that the stay is justified.
With the Court of Appeals ruling in place, Apple is resuming online sales today (Thursday 28 Dec) at noon Pacific Time (3pm Eastern Time).
Yet another wrinkle is that Apple has proposed a modification to both of these watches to the CBP. They are now seeking a judgment that the modified version is outside of the ITC Limited Exclusion Order. The ban also affected owners of older Apple Watches with pulse oximetry readings, as out-of-warranty watches’ hardware would not be considered repairable.
The most legally comprehensive article on this is by Dennis Crouch at Patently-O. Bloomberg, Axios, and The Guardian. The New York Post has a backgrounder on the relationship between the current president and Masimo’s CEO, which appears to be a close one but, based on another company’s history that follows, is likely to not be pertinent to the ITC decision or approval. (This Editor notes that Apple for decades and currently has been considerably influential in government matters and business policy. It is not unusual here in the US or elsewhere for that matter that company leaders play the donation game. We eschew additional comment.)
Apple and others’ patents–not perfect together. AliveCor is in a similar situation in its own patent legal actions with Apple: winning in an ITC patent determination approved by the White House, negative PTAB actions, then Apple appealing. AliveCor is currently engaged in an antitrust court action with Apple in the US District Court of Northern California [TTA 19 July and prior] with a decision expected in 2024. Unlike Masimo, Apple licensed AliveCor’s ECG technology in early Apple Watches, then took action when Apple introduced its own ECG in the Apple Watch 4 in 2020.
It also shows that Apple has, shall we say, a certain pattern of updates to its Watch lines that may infringe on the patents of smaller companies. Again, all Apple would need to do is license these patents and pay royalties. It might be cheaper than lawyers and lawsuits.