Apple Watch import ban gets dangerously close

Apple Watch import ban gets dangerously close

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Apple’s patent battle with health tech company AliveCor isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The two companies have been battling it out for years, and the pendulum has swung back and forth multiple times. Most recently, in December, the US International Trade Commission handed AliveCor a major victory, agreeing that Apple had infringed its patented technology.

The ITC’s ruling has now been upheld by President Biden, following the required 60-day review. This sets the stage for a potential import ban of the Apple Watch in the United States…

The background on this patent case begins in 2015 when AliveCor demonstrated how its patented technology could be used to allow an Apple Watch wristband to take ECG readings. AliveCor and Apple reportedly held discussions with Apple about a potential partnership, but nothing materialized from those talks.

But fast forward to 2018, when Apple announced the Apple Watch Series 4 with support for taking an ECG reading with no added hardware. In 2021, AliveCor launched its case against Apple, accusing the company of stealing its ECG technology and infringing upon three of its patents.

On December 23, the ITC officially ruled that Apple infringed on AliveCor’s patents with the Apple Watch’s ECG features. This delivered a major blow to Apple, but it had one more chance at turning around the case – a review by President Biden.

Today’s decision from President Biden

Following the ruling from the ITC in December, the case was passed on to President Joe Biden. Under ITC guidelines, Biden had 60 days to make a final review to ensure the ruling followed all necessary guidelines. The decision was officially announced today, with Biden declining to veto the ITC’s ruling and handing AliveCor a victory.

Priya Abani, CEO of AliveCor, touted the victory in a statement today:

We applaud President Biden for upholding the ITC’s ruling and holding Apple accountable for infringing the patents that underpin our industry-leading ECG technology. This decision goes beyond AliveCor and sends a clear message to innovators that the U.S. will protect patents to build and scale new technologies that benefit consumers.

In general, it’s rare for a president to veto an ITC ruling, but President Obama did so in 2013 as a potential import ban on the iPhone and iPad loomed as part of the patent battle between Samsung and Apple.

Will the Apple Watch face an import banned?

This brings Apple dangerously close to having imports of the Apple Watch banned. In its ruling in December, the ITC said that imports of Apple Watch should be blocked because of this patent infringement.

The potential Apple Watch import ban, however, was put on hold. In December, the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board declared that all three of AliveCor’s patents are invalid. AliveCor is appealing this ruling, and the ITC’s import ban is on hold while this appeal plays out.

So to recap, here’s where we are today: The ITC’s ruling that Apple infringed upon AliveCor’s patents stands and now has President Biden’s seal of approval. The appeal process over the validity of the patents, however, continues and is moving through federal court. Whether or not the ITC implements an import ban on the Apple Watch hinges upon the result of the appeals process.

If AliveCor is victorious in its appeal with the US Patent and Trademark Office, the full “Limited Exclusion Order” on Apple Watches would go into effect.

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