Apple has suffered a setback in its long-running Apple Watch patent infringement battle with medical technology company Masimo. A court has ruled that Apple has indeed infringed one of Masimo’s patents in the Apple Watch Series 6 and up.
Masimi is seeking a US import on all current Apple Watches. If granted, this would effectively end Apple Watch sales in the US, as the company would not be allowed to bring in the devices from China …
The battle between the two companies has a long history. Back in 2013, Apple reportedly contacted Masimo to discuss a potential collaboration between the two companies. Instead, claims Masimo, Apple used the meetings to identify staff it wanted to poach. Masimo later called the meetings a “targeted effort to obtain information and expertise.”
Apple did indeed hire a number of Masimo staff, including the company’s chief medical officer, ahead of the launch of the Apple Watch.
Masimo CEO Joe Kiano later expressed concern that Apple may have been trying to steal the company’s blood oxygen sensor technology. The company describes itself as “the inventors of modern pulse oximeters,” and its tech is used in many hospitals.
“Some of the talent (Apple recruited) has access to deep wells of trade secrets and information,” said Joe Kiani, chief executive officer of medical device firm Masimo Corp, who lost his chief medical officer to Apple in mid-2013. Kiani said that Apple was offering sizeable salaries with little indication of what researchers would be doing. “They are just buying people,” he said. “I just hope Apple is not doing what we’re doing.”
In 2020, the company sued Apple for stealing trade secrets and infringing 10 Masimo patents. The lawsuit asked for an injunction on the sale of the Apple Watch.
Apple has consistently denied the claims, and recently hit back with a counterclaim of its own, alleging that Masimo’s own W1 Advanced Health Tracking Watch infringes multiple Apple patents.
Apple Watch patent infringement ruling
Reuters reports that a US court has ruled against Apple on one of the patent claims.
A U.S. judge ruled that Apple had infringed on one of Masimo’s pulse oximeter patents by importing and selling certain Apple Watches with light-based pulse oximetry functionality and components, Masimo said on Tuesday.
The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) will now consider whether to implement an import ban on these Apple Watches, the medical device maker said.
“We respectfully disagree with today’s decision, and look forward to a full review by the Commission,” Apple said in a statement.
This is likely to be a tricky one to unravel. It’s clear that Apple did have access to a great many trade secrets from Masimo – which has long made medical monitoring equipment for hospitals – and it’s a matter of record that the Cupertino company poached several staff.
Pulse oximetry itself is very old tech, having been used in hospitals for decades, but usually it relies on a separate emitter and sensor on opposite sides of a finger or earlobe. Eliminating the need for this was a very significant development, without which the O2 functionality in the Apple Watch Series 6 and later would not be possible. Determining whether or not Apple developed this tech independently is not going to be a trivial task.
The ITC operates independently of the court system, so it’s entirely possible for it to reach a different conclusion.
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