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A ban on the import of Apple Watch is possible in the United States. Here's what you need to know before it potentially comes into force at Christmas 2023.
In line with the U.S. International Trade Commission's (ITC) recommendation to initiate a ban on Apple Watch imports into the U.S. at the end of October, the Biden administration is halfway through its 60-day review period. If the administration believes a ban on Apple Watch imports should be implemented, it would limit the number of Apple Watches a company can import into the United States at the end of 2023.
The timing of the executive order effectively means the White House effectively has until Christmas to make a decision on the issue.
Import Apple Watch ban: history so far
Healthcare company Masimo filed a lawsuit in US District Court in 2020, alleging that Apple stole trade secrets and infringed patents with the blood pulse oximeter in the Apple Watch. This was followed by a filing with the US International Trade Commission in 2021.
Masimo accused Apple of unfairly copying the blood oxygen detection function in its products.
Masimo also reasoned that the US public would not be affected by the Apple Watch import ban because the sensor is not “essential to the public health and welfare.” This was due to Apple's fine print warnings that the sensor measurements “should not be used for medical purposes,” Masimo said.
Although the district court trial ended in a mistrial and was not reopened, the ITC ruled in Masimo's favor in January.
On October 26, the ITC issued an order prohibiting Apple from importing any Apple Watch models that infringe Masimo's patents after a full review. The decision then began a 60-day review period by the White House.
“Masimo wrongly attempted to use ITC to hide a potentially life-saving product from millions of U.S. consumers while making room for its own watches that copy Apple,” an Apple spokesperson said. “While today's decision does not have an immediate impact on Apple Watch sales, we believe it should be overturned and will continue to pursue an appeal.”
Apple Watch import ban: what happening next
The White House's 60-day decision period does not guarantee that a ban on Apple Watch imports will actually happen, but there is a possibility that it will happen.
If the Biden administration agrees, the ban on the import and sale of already imported devices will take effect on December 25, at the end of Apple's peak sales period. This will include preventing the affected models from being imported as well as being sold in the United States.
If the Apple Watch import ban is not challenged, it will theoretically last until the patent itself expires in August 2028.
If the White House imposes a ban on Apple Watch imports, Apple will still be able to appeal the decision, but will not be able to do so until the 60-day period expires. Due to the rather lengthy nature of the appeals process, Apple could end up waiting a long time for the ban to be lifted.
Additionally, an appeal to the Federal Circuit would likely involve asking Apple to delay the ban pending a new review. However, there is no guarantee that the Apple Watch import ban will be temporarily lifted by this court.
What the Apple Watch import ban means for consumers
If the Apple Watch import ban is implemented, simply put, the choice of Apple Watch models that US consumers will be able to buy will suddenly become much smaller.
The Apple Watch import ban will only affect models that allegedly infringe the patent, including Apple Watch Series 6 and later models. Earlier models and Apple Watch SE do not support this feature and are not affected.
According to the ITC order, the ban applies only to Apple Watch on Christmas Day itself. New devices purchased before the Apple Watch import ban was implemented will still be legal for consumer use.
Apple's warranties will also continue to apply as usual, so any devices purchased that are covered by the warranty may still be covered by the company.
Consumers in other territories not affected by ITC will not be affected by the ban.
What Apple can do
As has been done in the past for other bans import or sale, Apple will almost certainly appeal the order and do everything possible to overturn it. Since the United States is such a big market, they have an interest in this.
However, since this could be a lengthy and expensive process, Apple won't necessarily want to leave the US as the only market where it can't sell the Apple Watch.
Another way to ease the Apple Watch import ban is to change the Apple Watch itself.
Instead of keeping this feature in its current state, Apple could simply remove it from future models. If there are no infringing components inside the Apple Watch, it will not be subject to the import ban, just like the Apple Watch SE.
Apple could also come up with an alternative way to perform this function in the Apple Watch, although this would likely increase research and development costs. Implementation and actual implementation may also take too long compared to the legal battle.
For now, all the company and consumers can do is wait and see what the Biden administration does about it.
Again, thanks to their lobbying power, there may still be a chance of a Christmas miracle for Apple PCs if they play their cards right.