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In a nutshell: If you plan on getting an Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2, you might want to pull the trigger before Christmas. The company has announced it will suspend US sales of both devices over a patent dispute regarding its new blood oxygen sensor.
Apple will halt website sales of its two latest flagship watches at 3 pm EST on Thursday, December 21, and at the close of business on Christmas Eve at its brick-and-mortar stores. As 9to5Mac notes, customers can still potentially obtain them from retailers like Amazon and Best Buy, but only while supplies last.
The sales freeze is necessitated by an import ban on Apple Watches imposed by the US International Trade Commission over an alleged patent infringement. In 2021, medical technology company Masimo sued, claiming Apple's light-based pulse-ox sensor infringed its patents. The action does not affect overseas sales nor does it affect older models or the SE.
In October, the ITC agreed with the court ruling in favor of Masimo. Since the ITC presides over international trade, its decision was automatically sent to the White House for a 60-day presidential review, which ends on December 25.
Although US presidents rarely veto the ITC, President Biden can overturn the ruling. Such an occurrence happened in 2013 when Obama squashed a similar ITC import freeze on iPhones over a patent dispute with Samsung. If Biden acts similarly, Apple can return to business as usual. Otherwise, the import ban remains in place until Apple remedies the situation.
TechSpot has reached out to Apple for comment regarding a time frame for the freeze but has not heard back. However, these situations typically don't last long.
Cupertino may settle with Masimo and license the company's pulse-ox tech. This contingency would likely cause a significant out-of-pocket expense to Apple, but it's likely to be cheaper than an indefinite ban on US sales.
This case is not the first time the tech titan has encountered a potential import ban over a patent dispute on the Apple Watch. Earlier this year, Cupertino faced an almost identical action in a case involving AliveCor's long-running patent suit over its EKG heart-rate monitoring technology.
While President Biden refused to veto the ITC, the ban is on hold while the dispute continues in court. In that case, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board recently ruled that AliveCor's EKG tech isn't patentable, meaning AliveCor would have to win its appeal for that ruling for any potential ban to take effect.
Of course, Apple taking preemptive measures in preparation for the import ban could indicate that it does not have an appeal or other remediation ready. However, the company already has a couple of countersuits against Masimo over its recently released smartwatch that Cupertino claims infringes some of its Apple Watch patents, so it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Both companies could call it a wash and drop their complaints but don't count on it.