Apple Watch risks being banned in the United States: Apple may be forced to stop selling Apple Watch Series 9 e Watch Ultra 2, starting December 26th. In this article we try to clarify what is happening – and what could happen in the next few days.
Apple Watch at risk of ban in the USA: what’s happening?
The International Trade Commission (ITC) of the United States issued an unprecedented ruling, establishing that Apple infringed two patents of the renowned medical device manufacturer Fields. This decision triggered a series of events that culminated in a ban on the sale of Apple Watch Series 9 e Ultra 2scheduled for next December 26th.
Less than one Christmas miracle, the company may have few options to avoid the ban. Indeed, Apple has already decided to collect watches early from its online store starting December 21st and from Apple Store by December 24th.
The current situation arises from a long legal dispute over patents between Apple and Masimo, which developed a patented technology for measuring oxygen saturation (SpO2). About 10 years ago, Apple had begun conversations with Masimo for a potential collaboration on measuring blood oxygen via wearable devices. However, shortly thereafter, Apple would take over some engineers and Masimo’s medical director. To then launch, as The Verge points out, the Apple Watch Series 6, the first equipped with an SpO2 sensor for measuring oxygen saturation in the blood.
Masimo has taken legal action against Apple both in court and at the ITC. In January 2023, the ITC concluded that the Apple Watch they would have effectively infringed Masimo’s patents. It then imposed an import ban and an order to stop selling products that infringed those patents.
The (difficult) hope of a presidential veto
Currently, we are in a presidential review phase of 60 days. During this period, the president of the United States Joe Biden or the United States Trade Representative (USTR) may place the veto the ban and save the Apple Watch. However, in the absence of a veto by the end of the review period, the ban will become effective.
In 2013, iPresident Obama vetoed an import ban requested by Samsung. But the situation seems very different and Apple doesn’t seem to have any valid arguments this time. Samsung had accused Apple of using patents for cellular connectivity, which the Obama administration considered essential and standard. Furthermore, he feared that a ban could give Samsung an unfair competitive advantage. That case also only affected iPhones 4 and earlier, not the latest models as in this case. Despite all these circumstances, which do not exist today, even in that case the decision caused a lot of discussion. It seems unlikely that Apple can count on a veto this time.
What Apple can do to avoid a ban
Despite Apple’s intention to appeal and explore legal and technical options to keep the watches on sale, the path to overturning Apple’s decision International Trade Commission it seems arduous. An appeal could take up to 18 months: there will already be a new generation of Apple Watch in Apple Stores when the ban ends.
So, Apple might try to get around the ban through the product redesign, disabling the SpO2 sensor involved in the infringed patents. There are signs that the company is actively pursuing this option, with engineers working to alter the blood oxygen algorithms on the watches.
However, this approach is not without challenges. Any modification must be significant enough to avoid the patent in question. And it could create problems in Apple’s supply chain and take some time. Especially because Masimo claims that the patent also involves hardware, which may require more radical changes to the watch’s design.
Apple could avoid the import ban by moving Apple Watch production to America. But it seems too expensive and unrealistic at the moment.
What Apple risks with the ban
The ban prevents the import and sale of Apple’s two flagship Apple Watches in the United States. The US market is important for Apple: it holds about 30% of it. Munless the Apple Watch ban expands beyond American borders, the company should be able to contain the damage on a financial level. Furthermore, it can continue to sell Apple Watch SEs in the US. Which cost less, but still allow access to the Apple ecosystem. Additionally, third-party stores that have already bought large quantities of Series 9 and Ultra 2 will be able to continue selling them.
So, although it has had to withdraw the watches from online and offline stores, Apple still has some time to decide what to do. If, as it seems, there is no veto, Apple will try to circumvent the ban with a software update. If even this is not possible, the option remains to settle with Masimo: it will cost much more than expected, but it could resolve the issue at the last minute. What remains to be understood is How long will it take for Apple to resolve this issue? and whether she will be willing to compromise.