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The Apple Watch import ban: Is your favorite wearable tech at risk?

Due to patent infringement accusations, Apple’s smartwatches may face a ban in the United States. Learn about the allegations, Apple’s response, and the likelihood of a ban.

If you own an Apple Watch, you may have heard that the wearable could be banned in the United States. AliveCor, a start-up specialising in wearable ECG technology, has accused Apple of stealing its heart rate monitoring patents.

We wrote about the possibility of the ban a couple of weeks ago. Apple’s hope was that President Biden’s administration would intervene. The President has the authority to veto the International Trade Commission (ITC) decision, which is set to be challenged in court. This would allow Apple to keep selling its smartwatch in the US.

This, however, did not occur. The ITC’s Limited Exclusion Order (LEO) on Apple Watches infringing on AliveCor patents became the first LEO against Apple to be approved by the President. The LEO will take effect once all appeals in the case have been exhausted.

What exactly is Apple being accused of?

Typically, products like smartwatches are only banned if they pose a health risk to users, which Apple Watch clearly does not. In fact, the wearable has FDA approval for some of its functionality.

The problem lies elsewhere. AliveCor says that Apple violated its patents related to ECG monitoring technology on certain Apple Watch models.

Kardia Band becomes first medical-grade accessory for Apple Watch
AliveCor KardiaBand for the Apple Watch

The company claims that when it released an ECG accessory for the Apple Watch in 2015, it shared information about its wearable with Apple. However, three years later, Apple added its own ECG monitor to the Apple Watch Series 4 and blocked third-party heart-rate monitoring apps such as AliveCor. AliveCor claims that this action has hurt sales of its KardiaBand Apple Watch accessory.

Apple’s legal battle with AliveCor

In 2021, AliveCor filed a lawsuit against Apple, and the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in its favour. This imposed a ban on the import of ECG-equipped Apple Watches, which includes the Apple Watch 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, SE, and Ultra.

AliveCor, according to Reuters, is currently involved in a separate appeal to the Commerce Department’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board. They ruled that the startup’s patents in its ITC case are invalid, so a ruling in favour of Apple.

Which means, before addressing the ITC issue, a federal appeals court must resolve this dispute. The typical timeline for these cases is 12 to 18 months, implying that the case may not be resolved until we are well into 2024.

The future of Apple Watches

Although there will be no changes for Apple Watch users in the near future, Apple has won that legal battle. The company has shown that it was working on ECG technology prior to AliveCor’s patent filing. Furthermore, Apple claimed that it is under no obligation to allow other companies to use its platform.

It is also likely that Apple will look into other ways to circumvent the ban. Needless to say, the company wields significant lobbying power. And it’s quite possible that the two companies might reach a settlement agreement.

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

All of this means that your favourite smartwatch will not be subject to an import ban for some time. Users in the United States will almost certainly be able to purchase the Apple Watch Series 9 when it is released in September.

However, AliveCor is not the only company seeking a ban on Apple Watch imports. Masimo, a medical technology company, also accused Apple of infringing on five of its pulse oximetry patents. The ITC will decide whether or not to impose an import ban in May. Watch this space.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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