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United States Apple Watch import ban has begun with no resolution in sight

Apple Watch Series 9

US customers seeking anything other than an Apple Watch SE may find it difficult, as the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 are no longer being imported until further notice.

A patent lawsuit from Masimo led the United States International Trade Commission to recommend an import ban on infringing Apple Watch models. That means Apple had to halt import of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 since they are the only new models sold with blood oxygen sensors.

Apple hopes a software update will be enough to satisfy customs and enable the import of Apple Watches in the meantime as it appeals the patent lawsuit. Another probable option is settling with Masimo, though it seems Apple has avoided approaching that so far.

There was some hope that President Biden's administration might step in and prevent the ban from going into effect. Apple wouldn't need to take action if the White House allowed a stay on the ITC's order until the patent trials were fully resolved.

"After careful consultations, Ambassador Katherine Tai decided not to reverse the ITC's determination and the ITC's decision became final on December 26, 2023," a statement by the Office of the US Trade Representative has declared.

However, now the ban has gone into effect, and Apple must comply. The ban begins December 25, at the end of the North American holiday season, which should help prevent the ban from causing too much damage in the short term.

Whether a software update, settlement, or other occurrence allows Apple to import Apple Watches again, the next crucial gift-giving holiday in the United States isn't until February — Valentine's Day. While Apple can't sell the affected models, third-party sellers like Best Buy can sell out their inventory, and there is no way of knowing how long that may take.

Beyond a settlement, Masimo believes nothing short of hardware changes will allow Apple to resume sales in the United States. The situation is unprecedented, so there is no predicting what Apple may do, as the next hardware update isn't due until September 2024.