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.

Source: Bloomberg

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  • meacupla - Thursday, January 18, 2024 - link

    My thoughts on this
    - Apple got a taste of their own medicine
    - It sucks for Apple Watch owners. Those are potentially life saving features that they lost through no fault of their own.
    - Masimo had their bogus patents invalidated
    - If Masimo's appeal fails, it looks like consumers might reap the most benefits in the long term
    - Life saving features locked behind a patent paywall is literally dystopian.
  • bwanaaa - Thursday, January 18, 2024 - link

    'Life saving features locked behind a patent paywall is patently dystopian.'
  • ballsystemlord - Thursday, January 18, 2024 - link

    But then so many things that are patented could be used to save lives either directly or indirectly that the whole concept of patents practically becomes invalidated in order to avoid the aforementioned "dystopia".
  • brantron - Thursday, January 18, 2024 - link

    Citation needed. $10 blood oximeters have been publicly available on Amazon since time immemorial. Even if it were the case that someone, somewhere, may die without it (???), one must wonder how someone could afford $350 for an Apple Watch, but not $10...while also having left a paper trail of larger filing fees in every lower court.

    I have nothing nice to say about patents. The trouble is that I also have nothing nice to say about the vast majority of arguments against patents.
  • ballsystemlord - Friday, January 19, 2024 - link

    Okay, you asked for it.

    Let's take water as an example.
    In order to get water, you need a pump. Therefore, motors and wet-ends cannot be patented. Now you have to pump the water from somewhere. Therefore, all pipe, pipe fittings, and plastic polymers which could be used in pipes, all steels, coatings of steel, etc, cannot be patented. In order to get the pump to work, you need electricity. Which means that all wires, wiring harnesses, wiring boxes, wire splices, etc. cannot be patented. In order to get power in the first place you need electricity. Therefore, all generator head, gas motors, LP motors, NG motors, solar panels, wind mill blades, bases, cements, steels, etc, cannot be patented. In order to get solar panels you need semiconductors. Therefore, all lithographic equipment, all semiconductors, all resistors, all inductors, all capacitors, all clean rooms, all materials used in said production cannot be patented.

    And that's just a brief overview for water. Think about what it would be like if we went into the medical device field...
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, January 19, 2024 - link

    Let's take water as an example."

    about the dumbest example possible. all of the 'things' you've cited have long since exceeded their patents, if any.

    more to the point: smart people do smart things because that's what they do. on one hand, you can entice an athelete to build bigger muscles (and, one hopes, perform better) by offering more moolah. on the other hand, offering people more money to be smart hasn't worked out. they ain't no 'brain push-up' yet invented.
  • ballsystemlord - Friday, January 19, 2024 - link

    Water is well known as a necessity of life. So it's an obvious example, but not dumb by any means.

    As for exceeding their patents, you must not really be aware of what's still patented. Even reading datasheets for stuff you can find plenty of examples of patented things.
    Of course, it's true that the rudimentary form of many things isn't patented anymore. Even I could create a coal power plant, I'm sure, without a single patented piece to the whole thing. But who wants to burn coal?
    Likewise, who wants to pay for an expensive oxygen sensing system when their far less expensive watch could do the job well enough?
  • GeoffreyA - Saturday, January 20, 2024 - link

    In the field of video codecs, patents are often a hindrance to the very technology they're supposed to protect. HEVC's adoption was slowed largely because of it, and it looks as if VVC is going to follow the same path, despite being the state of the art.
  • ballsystemlord - Sunday, January 21, 2024 - link

    GeoffreyA, I totally agree with you. Patents can indeed be a hindrance. They can be overused and misused.
  • mukiex - Friday, January 19, 2024 - link

    It's funny because while this isn't it, there likely ARE life-saving features for the watch that have been locked behind a liability wall for years.

    The watch explicitly mentions that it cannot detect a heart attack, but that's likely because Apple doesn't need a string of billion dollar lawsuits if there's even a 0.001% chance that adding a cardiac event detection feature has a false positive or a false negative. Medical regulations are strict and play ZERO games.

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