It could become difficult to get an Apple Watch with high-end health tracking features as President Joe Biden has upheld a U.S. International Trade Commission ruling that could potentially ban the import of Apple’s smartwatches.
This all stems from a medical device brand AliveCor claiming Apple had infringed its patent relating to electrocardiogram (EKG) tech. Late last year, a final determination by the ITC found that Apple has indeed violated AliveCor’s patent and that there should be “a limited exclusion order and a cease and desist order” for Apple Watches sporting EKG.
And now a Presidential review has seen this ruling get upheld. If enforced, it could mean Apple will be limited in importing Apple Watch models with EKG features to sell in the U.S.
Now before you rush out and panic buy the likes of the Apple Watch Series 8 or Apple Watch Ultra, this ruling isn’t likely to have an immediate impact. Apple spokesperson Hannah Smith told The Verge that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board ruled that AliveCor’s EKG tech might not actually be patent-worthy and thus AliveCor would need to appeal that decision before the ITC’s ruling could come into effect.
Patent disputes are all rather complex, but the crux of this issue is AliveCor isn't the only one seeking an import ban on Apple Watches. Med-tech company Masimo also accused Apple of infringing five of its patents based on pulse oximetry; a decision on whether this warrants an import ban will be made in May by the ITC.
If your head is spinning from all this, then in simple terms if Apple fails to appeal these decisions and an import ban comes into effect, it could make getting an Apple Watch 6 or newer models difficult in the U.S. That’s unless Apple were to agree to pay licensing fees, something that could be rather costly for the company.
Overall, such patent battles are both a blessing and a curse. Companies that sit on patents can limit innovation, effectively claiming technology concepts but not bringing them to market. Equally, keeping some tech limited to patent holders can encourage competition and innovation, forcing brands that don’t want to pay licensing fees to come up with their own new technology.
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Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.