Apple will pause sales of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 starting December 21, it revealed today in a statement to 9to5Mac. The move comes as the products are facing a potential import ban until August 2028, due to rulings that the watches infringe on patents from Masimo.
In October, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) upheld a January ruling that Apple Watches with pulse oximeter features infringe on two Masimo patents. Since then, the case has been under a 60-day Presidential Review Period, which ends December 25. After that date, the watches are subject to an import ban until the patents’ expiration in 2028.
Apple told 9to5Mac:
While the review period will not end until December 25, Apple is preemptively taking steps to comply should the ruling stand. This includes pausing sales of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 from Apple.com starting December 21, and from Apple retail locations after December 24.
The Apple Watch SE will remain available since it doesn’t have the blood oxygen sensor technology under dispute, which Apple debuted with the Apple Watch Series 6 in 2020.
Since the ITC’s ruling is still under presidential review, President Biden may decide to veto the ruling, saving the Apple Watch from an import ban. However, we’ve already seen Biden decline to veto an ITC ruling that the Apple Watch infringes on electrocardiogram sensor-related patents owned by AliveCor. (The Apple Watch wasn’t banned related to that because the US Patent and Trademark Office revoked the patents in question, a decision that AliveCor is appealing.)
People can still buy the watches from third-party retailers for now. But if the ITC’s ruling isn’t vetoed, then, come December 25, Apple won’t be able to sell the watch to other retailers, like Best Buy, anymore.
Apple’s statement today noted that it “strongly disagrees” with the ITC’s ruling and is “pursuing a range of legal and technical options to ensure that Apple Watch is available to customers.”
“Should the order stand, Apple will continue to take all measures to return Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to customers in the U.S. as soon as possible,” Apple said.
Apple said it would appeal the ITC’s ruling on December 26 if the Presidential Review Period ends without a veto. But the watches would still be subject to the import ban.
A long battle
California-based Masimo has alleged that Apple started engaging in discussions with the company in 2013 under the premise of a potential partnership. However, Masimo claims that Apple ended up poaching some of its workers and tech. Apple previously claimed that Masimo was only “one of many medical-technology companies” that it met with during that time and that it never partnered with Masimo because it wasn’t consumer-focused.
As of this writing, Masimo’s “consumer health” website includes a handful of products. That includes the Masimo W1 health-tracking watch, against which Apple filed a patent infringement case in 2022 [PDF]. And if that’s not enough litigious beef between these two, Masimo also has a case against Apple filed in the US District Court in the Central District of California in early 2020, as noted by 9to5Mac.
While Apple is announcing some preemptive moves today, don’t expect the battle to be over. Apple made $39,845,000 [PDF] in wearables, home, and accessories sales for fiscal year 2023, (which ended September 20). There are numerous stakeholders—from suppliers to third-party retailers—invested in Apple producing flagship smartwatches.
Apple has alluded to numerous paths it can take to keep its watches alive, from more litigation to seeking new technologies. But it’s also possible that Masimo and Apple try to end their battle by working out some sort of licensing agreement.