Apple Faces Renewed Import Restrictions for Advanced Apple Watch Models in the U.S.

In a recent development, a federal appeals court has rejected Apple’s request to temporarily halt the ban on importing advanced models of the Apple Watch. The ban, initially imposed by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) last month, will be reinstated on Thursday, as outlined in a court filing on Wednesday.

Apple had sought a stay on the ban while appealing the ITC ruling, which prevents the import of Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, among other newer models, due to patent infringement issues with another company. The ITC order, effective last month, triggered Apple’s appeal process.

Despite Apple’s interim stay request being granted last month, allowing continued imports until a longer stay could be decided, Wednesday’s ruling indicates that the import ban will persist throughout the appeal process. However, Apple has devised a solution by receiving approval from US Customs and Border Protection to import a redesigned version of its most advanced watches.

The redesigned watches will exclude the pulse oximeter function, the feature central to the patent dispute. This function measures the oxygen concentration in the blood stream. Apple clarified that it plans to release the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 without the pulse oximeter feature, both in physical stores and online starting Thursday. Customers who purchase the redesigned watches will still see the Blood Oxygen icon, but clicking on it will reveal that the feature is “no longer available.”

Apple emphasized its commitment to compliance with the ruling while minimizing disruption for customers during the appeal process. Customers who had previously purchased an Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 with the pulse oximeter feature will not be affected by the changes.

The import ban originated from an October ITC ruling that found the pulse oximeter feature in Apple’s advanced watch models violated a patent held by California-based company Masimo. This ruling compelled Apple to halt the importation of the affected models and remove them from shelves when the ban officially took effect in December. Apple promptly appealed the decision, and despite a temporary block by a federal appeals court, the pause on the ban concludes on Thursday.

The ongoing saga underscores the complex legal challenges Apple faces in navigating patent disputes and trade commission rulings, adding a layer of uncertainty to the availability of certain Apple Watch models in the US market.