Apple faces a legal dispute with Masimo, a medical technology firm based in southern California, over the built-in blood oxygen sensors in some of its Watch devices. The US International Trade Commission (ITC) is investigating if the Apple Watch Series 9 and the Apple Watch Ultra 2—which measure users’ blood oxygen levels—infringe Masimo’s patents. Until the ITC reaches a verdict, Apple will stop selling both devices in the US.
The conflict between the two companies started in October when the ITC imposed a ban on Series 9 and Ultra 2 imports into the US. The agency checks imports for intellectual property violations and confirmed a judge’s previous ruling that Apple had used Masimo-patented pulse oximetry technology in some of its Watch devices. The order was not effective immediately because it needed presidential review; for some time, it seemed Apple would not change its product offerings.
“Masimo has wrongly tried to use the ITC to block a potentially life-saving product from millions of US consumers while creating their own watch that copies Apple,” an Apple spokesperson said to Reuters on Oct. 26. “While today’s decision has no immediate impact on sales of Apple Watch, we think it should be overturned, and will keep trying to appeal.”
But presidents seldom reject ITC import bans, and with President Biden’s Dec. 25 deadline nearing, it looks like Apple is playing it safe. According to a statement sent to 9to5Mac, the company is “preemptively” taking steps to comply with the ITC’s order by removing the Series 9 and Ultra 2 from stores. As of 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, Dec. 21, neither device will be on Apple’s website. In-store units will be gone after Dec. 24.
“Apple strongly opposes the order and is exploring various legal and technical options to make sure that Apple Watch is accessible to customers,” Apple’s statement says. “If the order remains, Apple will continue to do everything to bring back Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to customers in the US as soon as possible.”
The ITC’s order only targets Apple, so third-party retailers can keep selling the Series 9 and Ultra 2. But this might not last long if Biden approves the ITC’s ban. Endorsing the ban would stop Series 9 and Ultra 2 imports from Dec. 25, preventing retailers from ordering and selling more units. That would leave only the lower-end Apple Watch SE—which does not have a pulse oximeter—available to consumers.