Apple Watch faces US ban over patent dispute — what you need to know

Apple Watch 6 back
The dispute centers around the pulse oximeter on the Apple Watch 6. (Image credit: Future)

Thinking of buying an Apple Watch? You may want to move quickly. Apple is facing another possible US import ban on its popular smartwatch line due to a patent dispute, this time over the device’s pulse oximeter. 

While an outright ban on all Apple Watches in the US remains unlikely—this is far from the first time Apple has faced such a scenario—the Cupertino-based behemoth is nevertheless taking the threat seriously. Here’s everything you need to know about a possible Apple Watch ban in the US.  

Who stole who’s pulse oximeter? 

Just last week, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) upheld a judge's ruling from January that Apple violated a patent held by the medical technology company, Masimo, with the launch of 2020’s Apple Watch Series 6 (now discontinued). 

More specifically, the dispute centers around the light-based blood oximeter found in every Apple Watch since the 6. This piece of tech allows users to quickly and easily monitor their blood oxygen levels, and is one of the major wellness-related selling points of the device.

Masimos lawsuit was initially filed in 2021, shortly after Series 6 devices hit the market. That suit ultimately went to trial back in May before a federal judge but it ended in a mistrial.

For what it’s worth, Apple has also filed a separate suit accusing Masimo of infringing on their pulse oximeter tech. However, that suit is not as far along in the legal process as Masimo’s.  

What happens next? 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

Though the threat of an outright Apple Watch ban in the US is real, we suspect Apple will resolve the matter well before it comes to that. (Image credit: Future)

So, what happens next? The ITC ruling gets sent to President Joe Biden, who has 60 days to potentially veto the ban based on any administrative concerns. However, there’s not much precedent for presidents doing this, and we expect this case will ultimately end up before the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  

Will Apple Watches really be banned?

Most likely not. Patent disputes are nothing new in the world of consumer technology. And Apple still has plenty of options available to them if things go south at the Court of Appeals. 

For one, they could settle with Masimo. Seeing as both companies have accused one another of stealing each other's tech, maybe some sort of agreement could be worked out. Another possible outcome: Apple finds a way to skirt around the disputed patent, via some sort of firmware update. 

Also, keep in mind that despite the ITC’s ruling, there’s no word on which Apple Watch could potentially be impacted.  Of course, if that changes, we'll be sure to let you know

Apple is also facing another potential important ban due to a separate patent dispute with the medical tech company, AliveCor, over its heart rate monitoring tech. For now, that ban has been placed on hold by the ITC as they further investigate AliveCor’s claims.  

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Dan Bracaglia
Senior Writer, Fitness & Wearables

Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.