What just happened? Could the Apple Watch disappear from sale in the US? It sounds unlikely, but such a scenario has taken a step closer after President Biden refused to veto an International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling that could ban imports of Cupertino’s popular wearable over an alleged patent infringement.
The situation revolves around medical device maker AliveCor. In May, the company filed suit against Apple, claiming the iPhone creator stole its EKG heart-rate monitoring technology and cornered the market in a “predatory” manner. AliveCor said that it first shared its technology with Apple in 2015 as it sought a partnership.
AliveCor says Apple stole its “cardiological detection and analysis technology” when it added an electrocardiogram monitor to the 2018 Apple Watch. In December, the ITC issued a final determination that Apple had infringed on AliveCor’s EKG technology and ruled that imports of the Apple Watch with the EKG feature should be banned. Reuters notes that the ban was paused while related proceedings over the patents run their course. Apple says it will appeal the ITC’s verdict to the Federal Circuit.
The Hill writes that Presidents don’t typically veto ITC decisions. But former President Obama vetoed a potential ban on iPhone and iPad imports in 2013 after the ITC ruled that Apple infringed on Samsung’s patents. Biden didn’t do Apple the same favor, despite the company boosting its lobbying before the decision.
Apple Watches from the Series 4 to the Apple Watch Ultra would be impacted by the ban. However, Apple might not have to worry just yet. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board recently ruled that AliveCor’s EKG tech isn’t patentable, meaning AliveCor would have to win its appeal for that ruling in order for any potential ban to take effect.
The ITC has also ruled in favor of another company seeking an import ban on Apple Watch imports; Masimo says Apple infringed on five of its pulse oximetry patents. The decision on whether a ban is warranted will be made in May.
AliveCor’s monopoly claims against Apple is a separate suit taking place in California federal court. It also has a related patent infringement lawsuit against Apple in Texas federal court. Apple, meanwhile, has countersued AliveCor in San Francisco federal court for allegedly infringing its patents.
Given that Apple is the world’s biggest company with a market cap of $2.35 trillion and its watches are the most popular wearable by a large margin, a total import ban seems unlikely to materialize. But the companies suing the firm could win hefty financial compensation/licensing fees from Apple.