Is your favorite wearable technology under threat?

Apple’s smartwatches are at risk of being banned in the United States due to patent infringement allegations. Learn more about the allegations, Apple’s response, and the likelihood of a ban.

If you own an Apple Watch, you may have heard that the wearable could be banned in the United States. AliveCor, a start-up specializing in wearable ECG technology, has accused Apple of stealing its heart-rate monitoring patents.

We wrote about the possibility of the ban a few weeks ago. Apple’s hope was that President Biden’s administration would step in. The President has the power to veto the decision of the International Trade Commission (ITC), which is to be challenged in court. This would allow Apple to continue selling its smartwatch in the US.

However, this has not happened. The ITC’s Limited Exclusion Order (LEO) for Apple Watches infringing AliveCor patents was the first LEO against Apple to be approved by the President. The LEO will come into effect once all remedies in the case have been exhausted.

What exactly is Apple accused of?

Typically, products like smartwatches are only banned if they pose a health risk to users, which Apple Watch clearly doesn’t do. In fact, the wearable has FDA clearance for some of its features.

The problem lies elsewhere. According to AliveCor, Apple has infringed on its patents related to ECG monitoring technology on certain Apple Watch models.

AliveCor KardiaBand for the Apple Watch

The company claims that when it released an ECG accessory for the Apple Watch in 2015, it shared information about its wearable with Apple. However, three years later, Apple added its own ECG monitor to the Apple Watch Series 4 and blocked third-party heart rate monitoring apps like AliveCor. AliveCor claims that this action impacted sales of its Apple Watch accessory, the KardiaBand.

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Apple’s litigation with AliveCor

In 2021, AliveCor filed a lawsuit against Apple, and the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in their favor. This imposed an import ban on ECG-equipped Apple Watches, which include the Apple Watch 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, SE and Ultra.

According to Reuters, AliveCor is currently engaged in a separate appeal with the Department of Commerce’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board. They ruled that the startup’s patents were invalid in its ITC case, so a ruling in Apple’s favour.

That means a federal appeals court must resolve this dispute before addressing the ITC issue. The typical timeframe for these cases is 12 to 18 months, meaning the case may not be resolved until well into 2024.

The future of the Apple Watch

Although there won’t be any changes for Apple Watch users in the near future, Apple won this lawsuit. The company has shown that it worked on ECG technology prior to AliveCor’s patent filing. Additionally, Apple claimed that it has no obligation to allow other companies to use its platform.

It’s also likely that Apple will look for other ways to circumvent the ban. Needless to say, the company has significant lobbying power. And it’s entirely possible that the two companies will agree on a settlement.

Essential reading: top fitness trackers and health gadgets

All this means that your favorite smartwatch will not be subject to an import ban for some time. Users in the United States will almost certainly be able to buy the Apple Watch Series 9 when it’s released in September.

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However, AliveCor isn’t the only company seeking an Apple Watch import ban. Masimo, a medical technology company, also accused Apple of infringing five of its pulse oximetry patents. The ITC will decide in May whether or not to impose an import ban. Watch this room.

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