Apple Inc. is contemplating the removal of its blood-oxygen feature from the latest Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches.

Apple Ditches Blood-Oxygen Feature to Avert Watch Ban

Apple Inc. is contemplating the removal of its blood-oxygen feature from the latest Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches. 

This strategic move aims to circumvent a looming ban on these devices in the United States, pending the outcome of an appeal challenging the ban.

The disclosure of this plan came on Monday, courtesy of Masimo Corp., the technology company became entangled in a legal battle with Apple over patents associated with blood-oxygen measurement technology. 

The approval for this modification was granted by the US Customs and Border Protection on January 12, signaling that Apple’s redesigned watches fall outside the scope of the import ban imposed by the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

The ITC had ruled in October that Apple’s smartwatches violated Masimo’s patents related to blood-oxygen measurement, prompting Apple to temporarily halt sales just before the holiday season. However, an interim stay permitted the resumption of sales late last month. 

Apple devised a software workaround to address the patent dispute and presented the solution to the customs agency last week, asserting that the redesigned watches unequivocally do not incorporate the contentious pulse oximetry technology, as per Masimo.

This drastic measure to remove the blood-oxygen feature would likely be implemented if Apple fails to secure a more extended stay from a federal appeals court. 

Apple anticipates a ruling on its motion for a stay for the entire appeal period from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, with the process potentially extending for a year or more.

During this period, newly sold Apple Watches will still feature the blood-oxygen capability, according to the Cupertino-based company. The customs agency has not publicly released its decision but shared it with the involved parties.

Masimo responded to Apple’s claim, stating, “Apple’s claim that its redesigned watch does not contain pulse oximetry is a positive step toward accountability.” 

Apple Navigates Legal Challenges

Apple Inc. is contemplating the removal of its blood-oxygen feature from the latest Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches.

The company emphasized the importance of large corporations respecting the intellectual property rights of smaller entities and complying with ITC orders when infringement is identified.

Removing the blood-oxygen technology from the Apple Watch would be a significant move for Apple. 

The company’s engineers are reportedly working on a software update that modifies the blood-oxygen app and algorithms to potentially circumvent the issue without sacrificing the feature. 

However, eliminating the capability appears to be the swiftest way to avoid a reimposed ban, which could have taken effect as early as this month.

Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Tamlin Bason noted, “Apple may have paid a steep price to get around a US import ban,” highlighting the potential impact on customer demand, despite addressing the immediate risk of the ban.

To prepare for a potential unfavorable outcome in the ongoing legal battle, Apple’s operations team has started shipping modified Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches to US retail locations. 

Stores have been instructed not to open or sell the tweaked devices until receiving approval from Apple’s corporate offices. These modified models may lack the blood-oxygen feature.

Simultaneously, a federal appeals court is expected to consider an Apple motion for a continued stay on the ban this week, with the prohibition temporarily overturned while awaiting a hearing. 

The ITC recently urged the appeals court to reject what it deemed “weak and unconvincing” arguments supporting a bid to block the trade agency’s enforcement of the ban.

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