Apple has announced a temporary halt in sales for its flagship smartwatches, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 in the US. This decision is a response to an International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling in a long-running patent dispute with medical technology firm Masimo. The dispute is specifically regarding the blood oxygen sensor technology in these watch models.
Sales of the affected models on Apple's website will cease after 3pm Eastern time on Thursday, December 21, with in-store availability ending after December 24, 2023. The ITC ruling, issued in October and upheld in January, prompted a 60-day Presidential Review Period, set to expire on December 25. Apple is proactively complying with the ITC's decision, emphasizing that the ban only applies to the Series 9 and Ultra 2 due to their blood oxygen monitoring capabilities, which does not include the lower-end Apple Watch SE.
While the ITC ban restricts Apple's sales, it does not affect existing Apple Watch models already sold or those available from third-party retailers. Apple plans to file an appeal on December 26, although this won't prevent the sales and import ban from taking effect. The ITC order permits exceptions for service, repair, or warranty periods for units sold before December 25.In response to the potential import ban, Apple engineers are reportedly working on a software workaround to modify the blood oxygen saturation measurement algorithm. This move follows a broader dispute between Apple and Masimo over hardware-related patents, focusing on how the sensor emits light to measure blood oxygen levels.
Bloomberg characterizes Apple's software adjustment as a "high-stakes engineering effort," with Apple aiming to submit the workaround to the US customs agency for approval. However, the timeline for completing this workaround is uncertain, raising questions about the availability of the Series 9 and Ultra 2 after the import ban goes into effect on December 26.
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Customers interested in the Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 are advised to purchase from third-party retailers like Best Buy or Walmart since Apple's sales pause doesn't affect these stores. The patent battle between Apple and Masimo, which has been ongoing for years, hinges on whether President Joe Biden will veto the import ban by the December 26 deadline.