Apple to Cut Blood Oxygen Feature from Newly-Sold Apple Watches in the U.S.by Anton Shilov on January 18, 2024 8:45 AM EST
Following the latest legal defeat in Apple's ongoing patent infringement fight over blood oxygen sensors, the company is set to remove its blood oxygen measurement feature from its Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 sold in the U.S. The decision comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit declined to extend a pause on an import ban imposed by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) last year, making way for the ban to finally take effect.
The legal setback stems from a ruling that Apple's watches infringed on patents related to blood oxygen measurement that belong to Masimo, which sued Apple in 2020. The U.S. Court of Appeals' decision means that Apple must stop selling watches with this feature while the appeal, which could last a year or more, is in progress.
As the ruling bars Apple from selling additional watches with this feature, the company has been left with a handful of options to comply with the ruling. Ceasing watch sales entirely certainly works – though is unpalatable for obvious reasons – which leaves Apple with removing the feature from their watches in some manner. Any hardware retool to avoid infringing upon Masimo's patents would take upwards of several quarters, so for the immediate future, Apple will be taking the unusual step of disabling the blood oxygen sensor feature in software instead, leaving the physical hardware on-device but unused.
The new, altered Apple Watch models will be available from Thursday in Apple's retail and online stores. Despite the change, the company maintains that the USITC's decision is erroneous and continues to appeal. Apple stresses that the blood oxygen feature will still be available in models sold outside the U.S., and perhaps most critically, watches sold in the U.S. before this change will keep their blood oxygen measuring capability.
"Pending the appeal, Apple is taking steps to comply with the ruling while ensuring customers have access to Apple Watch with limited disruption," the company said in a statement published by Bloomberg.
It is noteworthy that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board invalidated 15 of 17 Masimo's patents it reviewed, a verdict that Masimo is currently challenging. In Masimo's trial for trade secret misappropriation last May, a judge ruled out half of Masimo's 10 allegations due to a lack of adequate evidence. Regarding the remaining allegations, most jurors agreed with Apple's position, but the trial ultimately ended with an 11-1, non-unanimous decision, resulting in a mistrial. Scheduling of a new trial to settle the matter is still pending. In the meantime, Apple has been left with little choice but to downgrade its products to keep selling them in the U.S.