Why the Apple Watch might be banned from US import


A judge ruled Apple infringed on AliveCor's ECG-related patents.
Apple Watch imports might be banned in an ongoing patent dispute. But that's unlikely.
Photo: Apple

A decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission to block Apple Watch imports reportedly received a go-ahead from the Biden administration.

That would be a devastating decision, except that the ITC’s ruling is based on Apple Watch violating patents owned by AliveCor, and the U.S. Patent Office has ruled those are invalid. AliveCor is appealing, though.

A twisted tale of patents on personal electrocardiogram technology

Starting with Apple Watch Series 4, the wearable can take an electrocardiogram to see whether the user’s heart rhythm shows signs of atrial fibrillation. AliveCor sued Apple over the feature, claiming the tech giant infringed on its patents when developing the heart-health functionality for Apple Watch.

In 2022, a judge from the International Trade Commission supported the claims in an initial ruling, and then the full ITC agreed in December. The Biden administration has the option to overrule the ITC but chose not to, according to Reuters.

But that’s not the end of the story. Also in December 2022, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the three AliveCor patents at the heart of the dispute are invalid because they are “unpatentable.”

AliveCor is appealing, and the ITC put its ban on the U.S. import of Apple Watch on hold until that appeal is complete.

Don’t panic!

If AliveCor wins its appeal to the Patent Office, the ITC could ban the import of Apple Watch into the United States from where it’s assembled overseas. But realistically, that’s very unlikely.

What’s much more likely is that Apple will agree to pay AliveCor a patent licensing fee. Everything that has gone on up until now is an elaborate form of negotiations on how much that fee will be. Apple argues it should be $0, but AliveCor wants more, of course.

Note that AliveCor is not a “patent troll.” It makes personal ECG devices that detect atrial fibrillation.


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