Apple Watch import ban resumes in the US — what you need to know

Apple Watch Series 9
(Image credit: Future)

Another day, another new development in the seemingly never-ending game of legal cat and mouse between Apple and rival Masimo. The US Federal Court of Appeals has officially denied Apple’s motion to temporarily pause a recent import ban on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9. This means sales of both devices will be halted in the US starting tomorrow. 

The US International Trade Commission issued the initial ban over alleged patent infringements relating to the devices’ blood oxygen monitoring feature back in October of 2023. So, where does this leave Apple, prospective customers and current-generation Apple Watch owners? 

Apple Watch ban – here we go again

Apple made clear its intentions earlier this week to disable the feature in question, should the appeal fail. This workaround, cleared by US Customs and Border Protection, is no doubt a far less costly stop-gap than stopping sales altogether. 

Well, here we are. According to reporting from Bloomberg, Apple is already shipping units with the feature disabled to brick-and-mortar Apple Stores in anticipation of this outcome. These units have yet to be sold but will likely be swapped onto floor shelves starting tomorrow morning. 

It’s worth noting that Apple isn’t stripping any physical hardware from these devices but rather using software to block access to the blood monitoring tech. 

No word yet on what this will mean for current Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 owners. But frankly, we'd be surprised to see the feature yanked from watches purchased before this ruling. 

Apple Watch ban – how did we get here?

The debacle began with the 2020 release of the Apple Watch Series 6. According to the initial lawsuit filed in 2021 by Masimo, a California-based health tech firm, Apple’s blood oxygen monitoring feature relies on technology owned by Masimo. To make matters worse, nearly every Apple Watch since the feature’s introduction in the Series 6 allegedly violates Masimo’s patents. 

The case has meandered through the US legal system for several years at this point but saw a breakthrough last October when the US International Trade Commission (ITC) upheld a ruling from earlier in the year in support of Masimo’s infringement claims. 

The October ITC ruling then sent the case into a 60-day presidential review period, in which President Joe Biden had the chance to overturn the decision based on economic concerns. That didn’t happen (and rarely does in instances like this). 

The review period expired on December 25th, leading Apple to pull both products from physical and online stores. Conveniently, this didn’t take effect until after the busy holiday sales season and only lasted several days. 

With the new year approaching, Apple filed a motion to appeal the October ITC ruling in the US Court of Appeals. This led to a temporary halt of the import ban, allowing sales to resume on December 28th while a decision was considered. 

Ultimately, the US Appeals Court once again sided in Masimo’s favor, which brings us to where we are today. 

What happens next? 

In all likelihood, Apple will press on with its plan to sell the modified devices while continuing the appeals process and/or attempting to settle with Masimo. For what it's worth, Apple has also accused its smaller rival of IP theft.

Outside of Apple Stores, we suspect consumers will still be able to get their hands on non-modified Ultra 2 and Series 9 devices via third-party retailers, at least for the next several weeks. After all, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is an incredibly popular device and the best smartwatch for safety in 2024. Similarly, the Apple Watch 9 is the best overall smartwatch for most people in 2024. 

This is to say, loads of folks, us included, are following this case with bated breath. And we will be sure to update you on any new developments as soon as they drop. 

For now, buckle up. The ride ain’t over. 

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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.