US trade tribunal issues potential Apple Watch import ban in Masimo patent fight

Apple's 'Wonderlust' event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, California

By Blake Brittain

(Reuters) -The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on Thursday issued an order that could bar Apple from importing its Apple Watches after finding the devices violate medical technology company Masimo's patent rights.

The full commission upheld a judge's ruling from January that Apple violated Masimo's rights in light-based technology for reading blood-oxygen levels.

The decision will not have an immediate effect since it now faces presidential review and possible appeals.

President Joe Biden's administration will have 60 days to decide whether to veto the import ban based on policy concerns before it goes into effect. Presidents have rarely vetoed bans in the past.

Apple can appeal the ban to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit after the review period ends.

"Masimo has wrongly attempted to use the ITC to keep a potentially lifesaving product from millions of U.S. consumers while making way for their own watch that copies Apple," an Apple spokesperson said. "While today’s decision has no immediate impact on sales of Apple Watch, we believe it should be reversed, and will continue our efforts to appeal."

Masimo Chief Executive Officer Joe Kiani said the decision "sends a powerful message that even the world's largest company is not above the law."

The ITC decision did not specify which models of Apple Watches would be affected by the ban. Masimo's 2021 complaint said the 2020 Apple Watch Series 6, the first model with blood-oxygen monitoring capabilities, infringed its patents.

Masimo's complaint said the infringing Apple Watches were made in China. Apple has since shifted some of its Apple Watch production to Vietnam.

The ITC case is part of an intellectual-property fight between Apple and Masimo that spans several jurisdictions.

Irvine, California-based Masimo has accused Apple of stealing its technology and incorporating it into several Apple Watch models. A jury trial on Masimo's allegations in California federal court ended with a mistrial in May.

Apple has separately sued Masimo for patent infringement in federal court in Delaware. It has called Masimo's legal actions a "maneuver to clear a path" for its own competing smartwatch.

Apple is also facing an Apple Watch import ban in a separate patent dispute with medical technology company AliveCor. The ITC issued a ban in February but placed it on hold during related proceedings over the validity of AliveCor's patents.

Apple's wearables, home and accessory business, which includes the Apple Watch, AirPods earbuds and other products, brought in $8.28 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2023, according to a company report.

(Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington; Editing by David Bario, Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot)