Apple Watch gets updated to avoid being banned again

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Apple has developed a backup plan in case the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 face import bans due to a patent infringement issue. Currently appealing against the US International Trade Commission’s ruling that its watches violate a patent owned by Masimo, Apple has created a software workaround that removes the controversial blood oxygen monitoring capabilities from its current smartwatches.

In January 2023, the ITC ruled that the Apple Watch violated one of Masimo’s light-based pulse oximetry patents. The Apple Watch Series 6, released in 2020, was the first to feature a pulse oximeter sensor. Facing a potential import ban for the Series 9 and Ultra 2, released in September 2023, Apple began removing these watches from sale on December 21. However, on December 27, Apple received an emergency interim stay from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, allowing it to continue selling the watches while it appeals the ITC ruling.

Masimo recently informed the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that US Customs and Border Protection determined on January 12 that Apple had redesigned the watches to remove the pulse oximetry functionality. According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple achieved this through a software workaround for recently shipped smartwatches in its physical stores. However, the redesigned watches will only be sold once Apple’s headquarters instructs the stores to do so.

Apple expects that the redesigned watches without blood oxygen monitoring capabilities will only be released if the US Court of Appeals denies its request to uphold the stay during the appeal process, which the company believes will last for at least a year. Currently, the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 still offer blood oxygen monitoring, but it is unclear how long this will remain the case. Bloomberg also reported that Apple is working on a software update that will modify the blood oxygen monitoring app and algorithms, allowing users to check their levels without infringing on any patents.

In response to Apple’s request for an extended stay on the import ban, the ITC stated that the company’s arguments were weak and unconvincing. The court filing from the ITC expressed that Apple’s requests were akin to “an adjudicated infringer requesting permission to continue infringing the asserted patents.”

Potential buyers of the Apple Watch who value blood oxygen monitoring should monitor the appeals court’s ruling, as it could lead to the watches they are considering purchasing lacking this key feature.

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