Apple Working on Software Fix to Avoid U.S. Apple Watch Import Ban

Apple engineers are "racing" to change the algorithms used for the blood oxygen sensor in the Apple Watch to avoid having to halt device sales, reports Bloomberg. Apple earlier today said that it will stop selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 in the United States starting on December 21 due to an imminent import ban stemming from a patent dispute with medical device company Masimo.

Sources that spoke to Bloomberg said that engineers are adjusting how oxygen saturation is determined and how the data is provided to customers, updates that will presumably remove technology that is allegedly violating Masimo patents. The work is in line with Apple's statement that it is "pursuing a range of legal and technical options" to make sure that Apple Watch sales are able to resume as soon as possible.

Masimo's patents are related to the hardware that powers the Apple Watch blood oxygen sensor, and Masimo believes that a software change will not be enough to address the patent violations. "The hardware needs to change," Masimo told Bloomberg.

An Apple spokesperson told Bloomberg that it is working to submit a workaround, so Apple seems to think a software-based solution will be sufficient. It is unlikely that a software fix will be deployed before sales stop, as Apple will need to test the changes. Hardware updates would take several months at a minimum.

Back in October, the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) ordered a ban on some Apple Watch imports into the U.S. after ruling that Apple violated Masimo patents related to non-invasive blood oxygen sensing. U.S. President Joe Biden could review the court's order and veto the ban ahead of when Apple will need to stop selling the Apple Watch, but presidential vetoes of ITC bans are rare.

While the White House has until December 25 to make a decision, Apple has decided to preemptively prepare to comply with the ITC's ruling. Apple will stop selling the ‌Apple Watch Series 9‌ and the ‌Apple Watch Ultra 2‌ in U.S. retail stores on December 21 after 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and online sales will stop after December 24. The Apple Watch will remain available in other countries, and this does not impact the Apple Watch SE because it does not have a blood oxygen sensor.

Apple plans to appeal the ITC's order with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on December 26 if a veto does not come through. Apple's statement from earlier today:

A Presidential Review Period is in progress regarding an order from the U.S. International Trade Commission on a technical intellectual property dispute pertaining to Apple Watch devices containing the Blood Oxygen feature. 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 starting December 21, and from Apple retail locations after December 24. The decision does not impact sales of the devices in other countries at this time.

Apple's teams work tirelessly to create products and services that empower users with industry-leading health, wellness, and safety features. Apple strongly disagrees with the order 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.

The ‌Apple Watch Series 9‌ and the ‌Apple Watch Ultra 2‌ are the only Apple Watch models that Apple sells with blood oxygen sensing technology at the current time (with the exception of refurbished models), though older Apple Watches also use the same technology. Customers will still be able to get their devices repaired and replaced if the ban goes through. Third-party retailers will be able to continue sales until supplies dry up, so those looking for an ‌Apple Watch Series 9‌ or Ultra 2 ahead of the holidays can get one from stores like Best Buy and Target.

If Apple is not able to remove the infringing technology or appeal the ITC's decision, settling with Masimo is a possibility, but there are so far no signs that Apple and Masimo are engaged in settlement talks.

Related Forum: Apple Watch

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Top Rated Comments

canadianreader Avatar
26 weeks ago
Why don't they just pay for the patent ?
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
rjp1 Avatar
26 weeks ago
Pay up - you have the money.
Score: 43 Votes (Like | Disagree)
thmsnt Avatar
26 weeks ago
Apple better not nerf my Ultra or it will be the last Apple Watch (and maybe product) I ever buy.
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)
The Mad Kiwi Avatar
26 weeks ago

Why don't they just pay for the patent ?
Because they want over $100 per watch. That's why Apple has been fighting; there's a ton of bad blood between Apple and Masimo because Apple poached a whole bunch of their staff.
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Radeon85 Avatar
26 weeks ago
Just pay up Apple you have enough money. Better not nerf the accuracy or features outside of the US or I can see more lawsuits in the future.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
LightProtector Avatar
26 weeks ago
Hoping for two things:

1. They don’t significantly nerf the functionality.
2. The engineers finish it in time to celebrate the holidays with their families.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)