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Apple Watch import ban: what you need to know

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

There is a possibility of an import ban in the U.S. on the Apple Watch. Here's what you need to know before it potentially goes into effect on Christmas Day, 2023.

Apple Watch Series 9

Following a recommendation by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to instigate an Apple Watch import ban in the United States in late October, the Biden administration is partway into its 60-day review window. If the administration believes an Apple Watch import ban should go ahead, that will restrict what Apple Watches the company can import into the United States at the end of 2023.

The timing of the order means the White House effectively has until Christmas day to make its decision on the matter.

Apple Watch import ban: the story so far

Medical company Masimo filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in 2020, claiming Apple stole trade secrets and violated patents with the blood pulse oximeter in the Apple Watch. This was followed up by a U.S. International Trade Commission filing in 2021.

Masimo accused Apple of unfairly copying the blood oxygen sensing feature of its products.

A blood oxygen level reading on an Apple Watch
A blood oxygen level reading on an Apple Watch

A blood oxygen level reading on an Apple Watch

It was also reasoned by Masimo that the U.S. public would not be affected by an Apple Watch import ban as the sensor isn't "essential to the public health or welfare." This was due to Apple's warnings in fine print that the measurements from the sensor "should not be relied upon for medical purposes," Masimo declared.

Though the District Court trial ended in a mistrial and didn't resume, the ITC did rule in favor of Masimo in January.

On October 26, the ITC issued its order that would bar Apple from importing any Apple Watch models that violated Masimo's patents, following a full review. That decision then triggered the 60-day review period for the White House.

"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."

Apple Watch import ban: What happens next

The 60-day decision period from the White House does not guarantee an Apple Watch import ban will actually take place, but there's a chance that it will occur.

If the Biden administration agrees, then the import and sales ban of already-imported devices will be enforced from December 25, in the tail-end of Apple's peak sales period. This would include preventing the import of affected models, as well as their sale, within the United States.

If left uncontested, the Apple Watch import ban will theoretically last until the patent itself expires in August 2028.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9

In the instance that the White House does implement the Apple Watch import ban, Apple can still appeal the decision, but it cannot until after the 60-day period concludes. Due to the fairly lengthy nature of the appeals process, Apple may end up waiting a considerable amount of time for the ban to be lifted.

Furthermore, a filing for an appeal with the Federal Circuit would most likely include a request by Apple to hold off the ban while another review takes place. However, there is no guarantee that an Apple Watch import ban would be temporarily lifted by that court.

What an Apple Watch import ban means for consumers

If the Apple Watch import ban is implemented, simply put, the selection of Apple Watch models U.S. consumers could buy will suddenly get a lot smaller.

The Apple Watch import ban will only impact models that allegedly infringe on the patent, which would include the Apple Watch Series 6 and later models. Earlier models and the Apple Watch SE do not offer the feature and are unaffected.

Under the ITC order, the ban only applies on the Apple Watch on Christmas Day itself. New units bought before the Apple Watch import ban's implementation will still be legal to use by consumers.

Apple's warranties will also be operating as normal, so any purchased devices within warranty can still be serviced by the company.

Consumers in other territories not affected by the ITC won't feel the effects of the ban.

What Apple can do

As it has done in the past for other import or sales bans, Apple will almost certainly appeal the order and do whatever it can to get it lifted. With the United States being such a major market, it has a vested interest to do just that.

However, since this can be a lengthy and expensive process, Apple may not necessarily want to leave the U.S. as the only market it cannot sell the Apple Watch within.

One other way to mitigate the Apple Watch import ban is to change the Apple Watch itself.

Rather than keep the feature in its current state, Apple could simply remove it from future models. If there's no infringing component inside the Apple Watch, it isn't affected by the import ban, much like the Apple Watch SE.

Apple could also come up with an alternate way to perform the function in the Apple Watch, though that will probably increase research and development costs. It may also take too long to perform and actually implement, compared to fighting the legal battle.

For the moment, all the company and consumers can do is wait and see what the Biden administration will do about it.

Then again, with its lobbying power, there could still be a chance of a Christmas miracle for Apple's personal computing device, if it plays its cards right.