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Apple Watch in the US Gets a Slimdown: Blood Oxygen App on Pause

It appears that Apple may find a way to circumvent an import ban on the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 by making a significant alteration to the products. In response to a patent dispute involving Masimo, Apple seems poised to resume selling these devices in the US after removing the Blood Oxygen app from the units, according to a letter to an appeals court judge.

The letter from Masimo indicates that the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has determined that Apple’s redesign, which excludes the Blood Oxygen app, falls outside the scope of the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) import ban on the two devices. Apple reportedly assured CBP that its “Redesigned Watch Products definitively do not contain pulse oximetry functionality.” Specific details about the CBP decision remain confidential, and there is no public version of the decision available at present.

However, the letter suggests that the CBP decision could be subject to change if the ITC disagrees. Apple is said to have already shipped modified Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 units to its US locations, but stores have allegedly been instructed not to open or sell the new versions until receiving approval from higher authorities.

In October, the International Trade Commission (ITC) upheld a previous ruling that Apple had violated Masimo patents related to blood oxygen functions on the Apple Watch. This led to Apple halting sales of the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the US through its official website and Apple Stores by Christmas Eve. However, an emergency interim stay of the ITC ruling in late December allowed Apple to resume selling these wearables in the US.

According to reports, Apple’s recent decision to remove the Blood Oxygen app from affected units won’t impact users who already possess an Apple Watch with pulse oximetry features. The Blood Oxygen app has been available on Apple wearables since the release of the Apple Watch Series 6 in 2020. There is speculation that Apple may introduce a new version of the Blood Oxygen app to the affected units once the patent issue is resolved.

Following Apple’s announcement that it would temporarily cease sales of the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 to comply with the ITC’s order, reports indicated that the company’s engineers were diligently working on a software update. This update aimed to modify the Blood Oxygen app and its algorithms to ensure compliance with Masimo’s patents.

According to Bloomberg, the decision to completely remove the Blood Oxygen app from the affected Apple Watch units was seen as the fastest and likely simplest method to avoid the possibility of the import ban being reinstated. However, this move represents a significant concession, considering that the Blood Oxygen feature was once a prominently highlighted aspect of the Apple Watch. A federal appeals court might consider an Apple motion to extend the stay on the ban pending an appeal, and this could take place as early as this week.

In response to Apple’s claim that the redesigned watch no longer contains pulse oximetry, a Masimo spokesperson expressed a positive view, stating that it is a step toward accountability. The spokesperson emphasized the importance of a large and influential company like Apple respecting the intellectual property rights of smaller companies and complying with ITC orders when found to be infringing.

Masimo has previously alleged that Apple recruited its former employees and incorporated its pulse oximetry technology into Apple Watch devices. In retaliation, Apple countersued Masimo, contending that the company’s own smartwatch copied patented features of the Apple Watch.

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