In a recent turn of events, Apple Inc. has initiated an aggressive legal challenge against the U.S. import ban on its smartwatch models. This move follows the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) decision to enforce a ban based on allegations of patent infringement brought by Masimo, a medical technology firm.
On Tuesday, Apple filed an emergency request with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, seeking an immediate suspension of the ban. This action comes after the refusal of the Biden administration to veto the ITC’s ruling. Apple’s request aims to delay the ban until the U.S. Customs and Border Protection determines if the newly redesigned Apple Watch models infringe on Masimo’s patents. The Customs’ decision is expected by January 12.
The conflict stems from Masimo’s accusations against Apple for purportedly misappropriating its pulse oximetry technology and recruiting its employees. This technology is central to the blood-oxygen reading feature in Apple Watches, introduced with the Series 6 model in 2020.
Despite U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s decision not to overturn the ITC’s ban, which took effect on December 26, Apple remains firm in its opposition. The company expressed its intention to resume sales of its Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 in the U.S. market as swiftly as possible.
The ITC, last week, denied Apple’s plea to delay the ban during the appeal. This development was followed by the ITC’s opposition to Apple’s request for the Federal Circuit to suspend the ban.
Masimo views the ITC’s ruling as a validation of the U.S. patent system and a benefit for American consumers. Legal experts suggest that Apple’s refusal to settle indicates a strategy to either rapidly modify its designs to circumvent the patents or eliminate the disputed feature.
Notably, the current scenario is exceptional due to the high-profile nature of the involved product and Apple’s decision to abide by the ITC’s order rather than opting for a settlement.
Analysts from Stifel anticipate that the legal battle, should Apple appeal, could prolong the ITC case verdict by approximately another year. Meanwhile, Apple has halted sales of the implicated smartwatch models in the U.S. However, these models continue to be available through other retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart.
The ban does not extend to the Apple Watch SE model, and previously sold watches remain unaffected.
The legal confrontation with Masimo also includes a mistrial in a California federal court jury trial and Apple’s separate lawsuit against Masimo in Delaware for patent infringement.
The last instance of a presidential veto in an ITC ruling dates back to 2013, in a case involving Apple and Samsung. Earlier in 2023, the Biden administration opted not to intervene in a separate ITC import ban on Apple Watches related to a complaint from AliveCor, another medical technology company.
Apple’s wearables, home, and accessories segment, which encompasses the Apple Watch, reported revenues of $8.28 billion in the third quarter of 2023, highlighting the significance of this product line for the company.