The future of the latest Apple Watch models on store shelves hangs in the balance as President Joe Biden faces a Christmas day deadline to overturn a US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling. The ruling, if not overturned, will bar Apple from selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, among other new models, due to patent infringement. However, it seems unlikely that Biden will intervene.
In response to the ruling, Apple has already removed the affected models from its online store. Physical Apple Store locations are also expected to reopen Tuesday without these top-tier watches in stock. The ruling does not affect the cheaper Apple Watch SE, but it does impact the Apple Watch Series 6 and later, and all models of Apple Watch Ultra.
The ITC ruled in October that Apple had violated a patent for pulse oximeter technology, which uses light to measure blood oxygen levels. This patent is held by Masimo, a medical device manufacturer. Apple’s smartwatch, often marketed as a life-saving device, has become the world’s most popular watch. However, this dispute with Masimo threatens to tarnish that reputation.
On December 18, Apple began removing the Series 9 and Ultra 2 versions of the Apple Watch from stock in anticipation of the ruling taking effect. Without intervention from Biden, the 60-day review period on the ITC’s ruling ends Monday. Apple has expressed strong disagreement with the order and is exploring various legal and technical options to ensure the availability of the Apple Watch to customers. The tech giant also pledged to take all necessary steps to bring the Apple Watch back to US customers soon.
One potential solution could involve software tweaks to change how the Watch interacts with the pulse oximeter, thereby avoiding violation of Masimo’s patent. However, such changes could take time and there’s no guarantee that the ITC will approve Apple’s proposed solution. Masimo’s CEO, Joe Kiani, asserts that Apple knowingly infringed on his company’s patents. The two companies have been in conflict for years, with Apple filing two patent infringement lawsuits against Masimo in October 2022.
While intervention from Biden seems unlikely, there is precedent for such action. In 2013, President Barack Obama vetoed an ITC ruling to ban older iPhones and iPads after it was determined that Apple had violated one of Samsung’s patents.