Apple has removed the blood oxygen feature from its Apple Watches while it appeals its case against Masimo.

Apple removes blood oxygen feature from watches after federal circuit court upholds ITC ban

January 19, 2024
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
In compliance with the International Trade Commission’s ban, Apple has announced that it will remove the controversial blood oxygen monitor feature in its Apple Watches as it moves forward with its appeal against Masimo’s claims of patent infringement.

As of January 18, the company’s Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models sold on its website and stores will not contain the pulse oximetry capabilities. While the app icon for the component will still be included, should users tap on it they will receive a message that says te feature is unavailable. The decision does not affect existing Apple Watches or those sold outside the U.S.

Apple announced the removal a day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the ITC ban, telling the company that it must refrain from selling models with the feature during the appeal process, which could last months, according to Reuters.

In a statement, Apple said that it “strongly disagrees” with the ban and that it should be reversed.

Masimo founder and CEO Joe Kiani released his own statement, saying that the Federal Circuit’s decision to uphold the ban “affirms that even the largest and most powerful companies must respect the intellectual rights of American inventors and must deal with the consequences when they are caught infringing others’ patents.”

The company has included a pulse oximeter feature since the release of its Series 6 Apple Watch in 2020.

The same year, Masimo and its subsidiary, Cercacor Laboratories, filed a suit against Apple, alleging that the blood-oxygen sensor was developed using trade secrets from Masimo and that Apple poached its employees to learn about the technology and then filed patents for technologies that these employees helped develop.

Apple countersued, saying that Masimo’s legal actions are a "maneuver to clear a path" for its own competing watch. It also accused the company of stealing trade secrets from Apple for its W1 smartwatch, saying that it has outer design features and inner functions that look similar to the Apple Watch.

In January 2023, a judge ruled that Apple infringed on one of Masimo’s patents, leaving the decision of an import ban up to the U.S. International Trade Commission. In December, the commission upheld the ruling and issued an import ban on Apple Watches in the U.S. that infringe on patents owned by Masimo.

Apple initially suspended sales for the watches but later resumed them aftersecuring a stay by asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to postpone the ban temporarily. The Court of Appeals agreed to the request while considering whether or not the ban should be permanently put on hold until Apple’s appeal is settled.

According to Reuters, Apple appeared in court this month, arguing that it was likely to win its appeal and that keeping the ban in effect would harm the company, its suppliers, and the public. The commission countered that keeping the ban on hold would "amount to little more" than a patent infringer "requesting permission to continue infringing.

The Federal Circuit court sided with the commission and told Apple that it could not sell models with the feature during the appeals process.

Analysts told Reuters that they anticipated that Apple would get rid of the component, rather than stop selling the devices, which comprise about a quarter of the global smartwatch market, according to Counterpoint Research. According to a company report, Apple’s wearables, home, and accessory business, which includes the Apple Watch, made $8.28 billion in revenue in Q3 2023.

Apple is also currently involved in a legal dispute with AliveCor. In late 2022, the ITC ruled that it stole AliveCor patents to create wearable EKG technology for its Apple Watches. Biden also did not overturn that ruling, but the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled AliveCor’s patents were invalid, preventing the ITC ruling from affecting sales.

Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives told the Associated Press in December that the disputes with Masimo and AliveCor indicate that Apple may eventually have to enter into licensing deals or acquire startups specializing in the field to integrate these features with its watches.