TechSpot means tech analysis and advice you can trust. Read our ethics statement.
In brief: Apple is set to remove the blood oxygen feature from the Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 to avoid a permanent US ban. The devices were prohibited from being imported into the country due to a patent dispute with medical device maker Masimo.
The US government officially banned the import of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 in December. Apple appealed and it was granted a temporary pause on the ban.
The situation arose from Masimo making a complaint to the US International Trade Commission (USITC) in 2021 claiming Apple infringed on one of its light-based pulse oximetry patents. The technology arrived in the Apple Watch Series 6 in the form of sensors on the back of the device for reading wearers' blood oxygen levels. This technology has been used in all Series and Ultra editions of the smartwatch since then, but is missing from the cheaper SE models.
In January, a judge ruled that Apple had infringed on one of Masimo's pulse oximeter patents, leaving the USITC to consider an import ban on the devices. The agency ruled that the blood oxygen sensors in both devices did infringe on Masimo patents. The White House could have vetoed the ban but chose not to.
It appears that Apple has now come up with a workaround: a redesign that drops the offending blood oxygen features from newly sold Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 devices. 9to5Mac published a letter from Masimo's attorneys confirming that all parties have agreed to the plan. However, Apple says the devices will be available with the blood oxygen readings while the US appeals court considers a stay during the USITC appeal period. It expects the court to make its decision today.
"Apple's claim that its redesigned watch does not contain pulse oximetry is a positive step toward accountability," Masimo said. "It is especially important that one of the world's largest and most powerful companies respects the intellectual property rights of smaller companies and complies with ITC orders when it is caught infringing."
Bloomberg writes that the redesigned watches have already been shipped to Apple stores, but they won't be opened or sold until the company's corporate office gives its approval.
It's unclear what effect removing the blood oxygen sensor will have on sales of the Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches. Apple promoted this ability as part of the the wearables' many health-focused features, so it'll be interesting to see if losing the function influences people's decision to buy one.