A patent infringement case threatens to ban the latest version of the Apple Watch in the United States. The International Trade Commission (ITC) recently ruled that the latest Apple Watch model violates patents owned by AliveCor, a medical device company. The patents are for electrocardiogram (ECG) technology, which is a feature particularly useful for people with heart conditions.
The potential ban on the Apple Watch would have an effect on wearable tech industry as a whole, as Apple is a market leader. If the ban is implemented, Apple Watch Series 8 sales in the United States will be prohibited unless the Biden administration intervenes.
Patent infringement cases are not uncommon
Patent infringement lawsuits are common in the technology industry, and they can have serious ramifications for the companies involved.
One notable example is the 2011 legal battle between Apple and Samsung. Both companies accused the other of infringing on smartphone and tablet patents. Several court rulings were issued as a result of the legal battle, with both companies winning and losing some. Finally, a US court ruled in 2014 that Samsung had infringed on several of Apple’s patents and ordered Samsung to pay over $1 billion in damages.
Another example involving Apple is its legal battle with Qualcomm, which began in 2017. Qualcomm claimed that Apple violated several patents related to modem technology used in iPhones. Both companies filed lawsuits against each other in a number of countries. In 2019, Apple agreed to pay Qualcomm an undisclosed sum and enter into a six-year licensing agreement, putting the legal battle to rest.
Apple’s lobbying power
Despite the recent ruling against Apple, the technology behemoth is not going down without a fight. Apple wields considerable lobbying power, and it has hired a lobbyist to ensure that the Apple Watch remains on the market. Apple hired “Shara Aranoff, from Covington & Burling who chaired the ITC during the Obama administration” to appeal the decision.
What could happen next?
Unless President Biden’s administration intervenes by Monday, the ITC ruling is set to go to court. President Biden has the authority to veto the ruling, allowing Apple to continue selling its latest wearable device in the United States.
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AliveCor has sold in the past a range of accessories for the Apple Watch. The positive relationship between the two companies went uninterrupted until the release of the Apple Watch with ECG functionality in 2018. This forced AliveCor to cancel its own product, causing a schism between the two companies.
Not long before we find out
The fate of the Apple Watch in the US remains in limbo. It may now come down to the Biden administration’s to determine whether the latest Apple Watch model remains on sale in the US or not.
If the ban is implemented, it will have a significant impact on the wearable technology industry, and other companies may face similar patent infringement cases. What happens next is difficult to predict, but it is clear that the wearable tech industry is becoming more competitive. Don’t be surprised if such patent infringement cases become more common in the years ahead.
[update 21 February 2023]
Today, the ITC’s Limited Exclusion Order (LEO) on Apple Watches infringing on AliveCor patents became the first-ever LEO against Apple to clear Presidential review.
The LEO will go into effect upon resolution of all appeals in the case, including AliveCor’s appeal of the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s decision that found the asserted patents unpatentable. If enforced, the LEO will bar Apple from importing Apple Watches with the infringing IP into the U.S. for sale.
The ITC’s Final Determination in December imposed an LEO and a cease and desist order, and set a bond in the amount of $2.00 per unit of infringing Apple Watches imported or sold during the Presidential review period.
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