Apple Removes Blood Oxygen Monitoring from New Watches After Losing Patent Case

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A ruling found Apple infringed a medical company Masimo patent vital to pulse oximetry in the Watch.

As of Thursday, Jan. 18, all newly purchased Apple Watches will no longer have the once-standard ability to detect blood oxygen level.

The change comes on the heels of Apple’s failure to convince a U.S. appeals court that its Watch contained original pulse oximetry technology.

For consumers expecting comprehensive health tracking, the stripped-down functionality represents a major step backward.

What Happened?

Medical technology company Masimo first filed a lawsuit against Apple in January 2020, accusing the tech giant of misappropriating trade secrets and improperly using Masimo’s proprietary technology. Specifically, Masimo claimed that Apple had poached former employees and then leveraged their knowledge to develop the blood oxygen monitoring sensors used in Apple Watches.

Masimo pursued additional legal action in June 2021 alleging that Apple infringed upon specific Masimo patents related to light-based blood-oxygen monitoring. While the initial June 2021 filing focused on the now-discontinued Apple Watch Series 6, the same disputed sensor technology was also embedded in the newly introduced Watch Series 9 line.

In October 2023, the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in favor of Masimo, determining that Apple violated a key Masimo pulse oximetry patent through the import and sale of select Apple Watch models equipped with light-based blood oxygen monitoring components and features. The ITC banned imports of Apple Watches using Masimo’s patented pulse oximetry technology.

As a result, Apple preemptively pulled all Watch models with this blood oxygen monitoring capability from store shelves and its website in mid-December 2023.

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A brief stay granted Apple temporary relief to resume sales. But after an appeals court elected to uphold the import ban on Jan. 18, 2023, Apple was ordered to permanently halt sales of Watches featuring the protected Masimo pulse oximetry technology. This applies to Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 model.

Limited Sales Impact

Rather than halting sales, Apple will redesign its watches to remove the pulse oximetry technology and sidestep the import ban.

The latest ruling won’t affect any smartwatches currently in use. People who have Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 models will be able to continue to use the blood oxygen monitoring feature. The new models will still offer multiple features for consumers to track their heart health, including tracking runs and detecting irregular heartbeats.

As the court’s ruling only affects sales within the U.S., Apple Watches sold internationally should retain functionality of the Blood Oxygen app despite its removal from models being offered to American consumers.

Still, Masimo founder and CEO Joe Kiani said in a statement that the court’s decision is “a victory for the integrity of the American patent system and the safety of people relying on pulse oximetry.” He noted that while Apple framed its pulse oximeter feature as a health aid, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the Apple Watch for medical oxygen monitoring. By contrast, Masimo highlighted that its W1 smartwatch, which has been available to consumers since 2022, has secured FDA clearance for medical pulse oximetry use.
Apple accused Masimo of leveraging legal tactics to promote its own wearable devices at the expense of consumer access to Apple’s supposedly “lifesaving product.”

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