ITC rules against Apple in patent dispute, setting up potential ban

President Biden has 60 days to decide whether to veto the decision.

Image by Valentina Palladino / Engadget

On Thursday, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) upheld a judge’s earlier ruling that the Apple Watch violated patents from medical technology company Masimo, as reported by Reuters. Although the ITC’s order could theoretically lead to an eventual import ban on Apple Watch models, the iPhone maker still has ample opportunity to avoid that outcome.

The decision stems from a lawsuit Masimo filed in 2021, accusing Apple of infringing on the smaller company’s patents related to light-based blood-oxygen monitoring. Apple introduced the feature in the Apple Watch Series 6, its 2020 flagship smartwatch. Its 2023 models, including the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, still include blood-oxygen sensors.

Masimo’s filing focuses on the Apple Watch Series 6, which the iPhone maker discontinued in 2021 following the launch of its successor. It isn’t clear whether or to what degree a hypothetical import ban would affect Apple’s latest versions of its flagship wearable. A federal jury took up Masimo’s allegations earlier this year, ending in a mistrial.

The case now moves to the White House as the Biden administration has 60 days to decide whether to veto the import ban based on policy concerns. Reuters notes that US Presidents have rarely rejected bans historically. If Biden opts not to veto, Apple can appeal the ban to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit after the White House’s review period expires. Other options for the $2.6 trillion company include settling with Masimo or issuing software updates that skirt the patent.

Masimo paints the scenario as a victory for David vs. Goliath. “Today’s ruling by the USITC sends a powerful message that even the world’s largest company is not above the law,” Joe Kiani, Masimo’s CEO, wrote on Thursday. “This important determination is a strong validation of our efforts to hold Apple accountable for unlawfully misappropriating our patented technology,” added Mr. Kiani.

In a statement to Reuters, Apple framed the move as putting lives at risk to boost Masimo’s product portfolio. “Masimo has wrongly attempted to use the ITC to keep a potentially lifesaving product from millions of U.S. consumers while making way for their own watch that copies Apple,” an Apple spokesperson said. “While today’s decision has no immediate impact on sales of Apple Watch, we believe it should be reversed, and will continue our efforts to appeal.”