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Apple's stripping out blood oxygen sensing from Apple Watch enough to skirt import ban

Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple's software fix to disable a blood oxygen sensing feature in the Apple Watch could be enough to thwart the ITC import ban, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has determined.

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, among other models, are the subjects of a currently-stayed ITC import ban brought about by a Masimo patent infringement complaint. However, it seems that Apple's attempt to work around the ban with changes is enough for U.S. Customs to allow imports to continue.

A Monday Federal Circuit filing from Masimo refers to a January 12 decision by the Exclusion Order Enforcement Branch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The filing, spotted by 9to5Mac, explains that the branch has "decided that Apple's redesign falls outside the scope of the remedial orders in the ITC investigation underlying Apple's appeal."

As part of the request, Apple claimed "its Redesigned Watch products definitely (1) do not contain pulse oximetry functionality," the Masimo filing quotes.

However, since Apple maintained that some of the information in the proceeding is confidential, Masimo didn't provide a copy of the decision in the filing. No public release of the filing exists either.

Ultimately, Masimo's attorneys explain, the "EOE Branch decision finding the redesign outside the scope of the remedial orders would eliminate any irreparable harm alleged by Apple."

Minimal sales impact

At face value, the discussion by Masimo in the filing indicates that Apple has done something to the Apple Watch to mean the claims of patent infringement no longer apply, at least in the eyes of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

However, it isn't explained what has changed. The discussion of a "redesign" could mean physical changes to the hardware, but that would require extensive work and resource consumption to perform in a short timeframe.

The more likely result is Apple's rumored software update, which it submitted to Customs for investigation in late December. Again, while there isn't explicit detail on what the update does, it is likely to simply disable the blood oxygen features.

To consumers, who can still buy a current-gen Apple Watch in the United States since the ITC ban is stayed for the moment, the decision won't immediately change things. Existing stocks of Apple Watch units in the country that have the feature enabled will continue to do so.

What it will affect are units imported into the United States. At that point, Apple will theoretically be selling the Apple Watch with the relevant features disabled.

Apple is highly likely to comment on the situation before it occurs.