The Apple Watch may get banned — here's why

Apple watch ban
Could the Apple Watch get banned? (Image credit: Future)

In case you missed it, AliveCor, a California-based medical device startup, put its foot on Apple's neck regarding an alleged infringement on its electrocardiogram (ECG) technology. Consequently, the Apple Watch, equipped with the ECG feature, is in jeopardy — and now, the patent battle seems to be leaning toward AliveCor's favor.

Early last week, the Biden Administration passed on vetoing an International Trade Commission (ITC) December ruling that imposes an import block on the Apple Watch. In other words, the Apple Watch may possibly get banned, but the Cupertino-based tech giant isn't going down without a fight.

Why is AliveCor accusing Apple of infringement?

AliveCor told The Hill that it shared details about its wearable ECG technology with Apple in 2015. The startup claimed that it built a solid rapport with the Cupertino-based tech giant, and as such, it ended up selling an ECG accessory for the Apple Watch.

However, things took a turn when Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 4, equipped with a built-in ECG sensor, in 2018. On top of that, Apple blocked third-party heart-monitoring apps, forcing AliveCor to stop selling its aforementioned accessory (i.e., the KardiaBand).

“We come up with new technologies, and instead of the ecosystem letting us thrive and continue to build on top of the innovations we already have, Apple cuts us out up front, steals our technology, uses their platform power to scale it, and now is basically saying it’s scaled so it can’t be cut off,” AliveCor CEO Priya Abani told The Hill.

AliveCor hints that Apple has been "Sherlocking" the startup, a practice that involves big-tech companies observing innovative technologies from smaller firms, and instead of paying them via licensing, they copy their technologies and adopt them for their own products.

In 2021, AliveCor filed a complaint with the ITC, accusing Apple of infringing on its patents. Last December, the ITC ruled in favor of AliveCor, mandating an import ban on ECG-equipped Apple Watches, blocking them from entering the U.S.

As The Register pointed out, by not issuing a review of the ban during the 60-day window, the Biden Administration effectively approved the ITC's December decision. The Cupertino-based tech giant tried to lobby the Biden Administration to thwart the import ban, but its efforts were fruitless. 

Still, despite the White House's non-veto, Apple Watches aren't on the chopping block just yet. Why? According to Reuters, AliveCor is currently appealing the Commerce Department's Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ruling that the startup's patents in its ITC case are invalid. To be succinct, per The Register, Apple demonstrated that the ECG technology had been developed and published by other medical pundits before AliveCor's patent filing.

As such, the import ban is on hold until a federal appeals court addresses these disputes. The Hill says this appeals process will likely to drag on into 2024; the typical timeline for these cases is 12 to 18 months.

Apple told The Hill that it expects to prevail in this case, especially since AliveCor's patents have been deemed invalid, but only time will tell.

Kimberly Gedeon

Kimberly Gedeon, holding a Master's degree in International Journalism, launched her career as a journalist for MadameNoire's business beat in 2013. She loved translating stuffy stories about the economy, personal finance and investing into digestible, easy-to-understand, entertaining stories for young women of color. During her time on the business beat, she discovered her passion for tech as she dove into articles about tech entrepreneurship, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the latest tablets. After eight years of freelancing, dabbling in a myriad of beats, she's finally found a home at Laptop Mag that accepts her as the crypto-addicted, virtual reality-loving, investing-focused, tech-fascinated nerd she is. Woot!