It seems that Apple will be able to bypass an import ban on Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 devices and once again sell those products in the US after dropping a key feature. According to a letter to an appeals court judge from Masimo, a company that’s been involved in a patent dispute against Apple, the latter can skirt the ban by removing the Blood Oxygen app from Apple Watch units it sells in the US going forward.
Per the letter, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determined that “Apple’s redesign falls outside the scope” of the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) import ban on the two devices. Apple told CBP that its “Redesigned Watch Products definitively do not contain pulse oximetry functionality.” Other details related to the CBP decision are confidential and, as things stand, “no public version of the decision exists,” Masimo’s letter states.
According to Reuters, however, the CBP decision may be upended if the ITC disagrees. Apple is said to already have shipped modified Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 units to its US locations, but stores were reportedly told not to open or sell the new versions until getting the green light from higher ups.
In October, the ITC upheld a prior ruling that Apple violated Masimo patents concerning blood oxygen functions on the Apple Watch. The ruling led Apple to pause sales of the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the US through its own website and Apple Stores by Christmas Eve. An emergency interim stay of the ITC ruling in late December enabled Apple to start selling the wearables again in the US.
According to 9to5 Mac, Apple’s concession won’t affect those who already have an Apple Watch with pulse oximetry features. Apple has offered the Blood Oxygen app on its wearables since it released the Apple Watch Series 6 in 2020. It’s possible that Apple will roll out a new version of the Blood Oxygen app to affected units once it resolves the patent problem.
Soon after Apple said it would stop selling the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 to adhere to the ITC’s order, it was reported that the company’s engineers were working feverishly on a software update. Those efforts were said to focus on changes to the Blood Oxygen app and its algorithms to ensure the devices violated Masimo’s patents.
That said, according to Bloomberg, nixing the app altogether was seen as the quickest (and likely easiest) way to avoid having the ban reinstated, though removing what was once a highly touted feature of the Apple Watch is a significant concession. A federal appeals court could hear an Apple motion to extend the stay (which was granted pending an appeal) on the ban as early as this week.
In a statement, a Masimo spokesperson told Engadget that “Apple’s claim that its redesigned watch does not contain pulse oximetry is a positive step toward accountability. It is especially important that one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies respects the intellectual property rights of smaller companies and complies with ITC orders when it is caught infringing.”
Masimo has claimed that Apple hired its former employees and used its pulse oximetry tech in Apple Watch devices. Apple countersued Masimo, arguing that the company’s own smartwatch copies patented Apple Watch features.
Update, January 15, 5:10PM ET: This story was updated after publish to include a statement from Masimo.