Apple Rushes to Update Apple Watch Software to Avoid Potential Ban

Apple is racing to make software updates to Apple Watch algorithms that measure blood oxygen levels in order to avoid a potential ban on the smartwatch in the US due to a patent dispute, according to a report from Bloomberg. It is believed that altering how the Watch measures oxygen saturation could help keep the Watch available for purchase during the holiday shopping season.

The blood oxygen sensor, which was first introduced with the Apple Watch 6 in 2020, is the subject of a patent dispute between Apple and Masimo, a California-based company that sued Apple in 2021. Masimo alleged that Apple’s sensor infringed on two patents related to light-based blood-oxygen monitoring. In October, the International Trade Commission (ITC) upheld a ruling that Apple had indeed violated Masimo’s patents.

The case is now under a 60-day Presidential Review at the White House, which is set to end soon. If President Biden does not veto the ITC’s decision, Apple will be banned from selling the Apple Watch 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, both of which include blood oxygen sensing. Apple is taking preemptive measures by planning to stop selling both Apple Watch models on its website on December 21 and in retail stores on December 24, in case the veto does not happen.

One potential way for Apple to continue selling the watch is to settle with Masimo. However, the company’s last-minute efforts to make software changes to the Watch suggest that it does not intend to do so. Apple has stated that it plans to submit its software workaround to the ITC for approval. Masimo’s CEO Joe Kiani has expressed willingness to settle with Apple, but the company has not reached out to him yet.

Kiani also does not believe that a software update to the Apple Watch would resolve the situation, as their patents are related to hardware, not software. Overhauling Apple Watch hardware would be more challenging and time-consuming than tweaking its software, according to a person familiar with Apple operations.

Apple and Masimo have a complex history, with Apple reportedly discussing acquiring the company in 2013. However, the deal did not materialize, and Kiani claimed that Apple hired several Masimo engineers and made them work on the same medical technology they were developing at Masimo. Apple has previously called the ITC’s ruling “erroneous” and plans to appeal the decision to the Federal Circuit.

It remains unclear whether Apple will receive immediate relief. However, the ban would only affect Apple Watch sales through the company’s own channels, so the smartwatch may still be available for purchase through other retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, and Target.