Federal court temporarily blocks Apple Watch ban pending appeal amid patent dispute

ByBrian Fung, CNN, CNNWire
Wednesday, December 27, 2023
Apple is officially no longer selling the newest Apple Watch in America
The cheaper Apple Watch SE remains on sale, but the ban affects the Apple Watch Series 6 and later, and all models of Apple Watch Ultra.

A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a sweeping import ban on Apple's latest smartwatches while the patent dispute winds its way through the legal system.

Apple filed its emergency appeal motion Tuesday on a US International Trade Commission ruling that went into effect this week. That ITC order prevented Apple from importing the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, among other newer models, to the United States because they violated patents registered to another company.

The Biden White House had until the end of Christmas day to overturn the ban but the office of US Trade Representative Katherine Tai confirmed in a statement Tuesday that the White House would not intervene.

The appeals court's temporary block on the ITC's order will allow the U.S. Customs Department to consider Apple's redesign of the offending Apple Watch models, a fix that is expected to take place by January 12. The company said in the motion Tuesday that it could "suffer irreparable harm" if the ban is kept in place while the appeal is ongoing.

Apple had already taken the offending Watch models off its online store, and Apple Store locations opened Tuesday without any of the latest top-of-the-line watches in stock. The cheaper Apple Watch SE, which was not part of the ruling, remains on sale, but the ban affects the Apple Watch Series 6 and later, and all models of Apple Watch Ultra.

In October, the US International Trade Commission ruled that Apple was in violation of a pulse oximeter patent, which uses light-based technology to read blood oxygen levels. Masimo, a medical device maker, holds the patent in question.

But the ban was on imports, not on sales. Third-party stories continued to sell the latest Apple Watch models even after the ban went into effect: Best Buy was still selling the Apple Watch in multiple colors, starting at $399. Target was beginning to sell out of certain colors of the Apple Watch Series 9. Walmart is also still selling the two latest models. On Amazon, as of Tuesday afternoon, four colors were left in stock for Apple Watch Series 9 with a case and sport loop.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the Apple Watch would go back on sale at its stores.

With Wednesday's emergency stay, however, Apple has won an early-stage reprieve that paves the way for Apple to continue selling its top-tier smartwatches even as it challenges the ITC decision in court. Wednesday's order from the Federal Circuit directs the ITC not to enforce its ban "until further notice while the court considers the motion for a stay pending appeal."

Masimo didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

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