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Shock Apple Watch ruling could see the device banned in the U.S., but it's unlikely

Apple Watch Series 7
Apple Watch Series 7 (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple is facing a legal challenge against the Apple Watch in the U.S.
  • AliveCor believes Apple infringes on patents it holds related to the ECG feature in Apple Watch.
  • A judge has made an initial ruling against Apple that could lead to an Apple Watch import ban in the U.S.

An International Trade Commission has agreed that Apple may have infringed on AliveCor's patented technology relating to the ECG feature in Apple Watch, a ruling that may lead to the device being banned in the U.S.

AliveCor announced in a press release on Monday:

AliveCor, the global leader in FDA-cleared personal electrocardiogram (ECG) technology, today announced that Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Cameron Elliot of the International Trade Commission (ITC) issued an Initial Determination finding that Apple infringed AliveCor's patented technology. If affirmed by the full ITC, the ALJ's finding of a violation could lead to the issuance of a limited exclusion order barring the import of infringing Apple Watches into the United States.

A judge ruled (opens in new tab) that Apple had indeed infringed on two patents related to ECG technology in its Best Apple Watch models:

Based on the foregoing, it is my Initial Determination that there is a violation of Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, 19 U.S.C. § 1337, in the importation into the United States, the sale for importation, or the sale within the United States after importation of certain wearable electronic devices with ECG functionality and components thereof in connection with the asserted claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 10,638,941 and 10,595,731. There has been no violation of U.S. Patent No. 9,572,499

The ITC case is one of a number of lawsuits and challenges AliveCor has filed against Apple, and has previously accused Apple of trying to squeeze it out of the market. A California judge ruled in March that Apple must face antitrust litigation brought by AliveCor. "The complainant faces several hurdles before any Apple Watch shipments would be seized," patent litigation expert Florian Mueller told iMore. "The Commission, which is the five-person decision-making body at the top of the ITC, would have to affirm the infringement finding and reject Apple's public-interest arguments against a ban. And even then, there could be a Presidential veto or the U.S. Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit might stay enforcement." Mueller also stated that there is a chance Apple may simply be able to "work around the patent", noting that Apple won an ITC case against Samsung over four patents that the Korean company simply "designed around", the end result being no impact on end-users.

As both the judge's ruling and the press release note, there is an outside chance that Apple Watch sales and imports could be banned in the U.S. in an extreme case, depending on whether the ITC affirms the ALJ's ruling. It is also possible and certainly more likely if AliveCor does receive the court's backing in this regard that the two companies may have to arrive at some kind of settlement in order to compensate AliveCor for the transgression.

There's always Amazon

Stephen Warwick
Stephen Warwick

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.