Apple is considering removing the blood oxygen monitoring feature from its newest Apple Watch models, the Series 9 and Ultra 2, in order to avoid a ban on importing and selling the devices in the United States.
This strategy was revealed on Monday by medical device company Masimo Corp., which has been engaged in an ongoing legal dispute with Apple over patented technology related to measuring blood oxygen levels. Masimo stated that on January 12th, U.S. Customs and Border Protection gave approval for Apple to remove the feature, determining that without it, the watches would no longer violate Masimo’s patents.
The potential import ban stems from an October 2022 ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission that Apple’s smartwatches infringed on Masimo’s pulse oximetry patents. This led Apple to briefly stop sales of the watches before Christmas, though a temporary stay allowed sales to resume in late December.
Apple has since developed an alternative software-based solution intended to avoid violating Masimo’s patents. The company presented this redesign to Customs officials last week, stating definitively that the revised watches do not contain the protected pulse oximetry technology. Masimo confirmed that without this feature, Apple’s products would comply with the ITC import ban.
The removal of blood oxygen monitoring would likely only occur if Apple’s appeal of the ITC decision is unsuccessful. A ruling on Apple’s motion to stay the ban for the duration of the appeal process is expected from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit as early as Tuesday.
In the meantime, newly manufactured Apple Watch units with the blood oxygen feature continue to be sold. However, Apple has told retail stores not to open or sell modified watch models already delivered until corporate approval is given, indicating contingency plans if the appeal fails.
Eliminating blood oxygen monitoring would be a major shift for Apple after heavily marketing it as a key health feature. While ensuring no disruption to Apple Watch sales is crucial, the removal could impact consumer demand for the popular devices. The legal battle with Masimo highlights the balance between innovation and respecting intellectual property rights.