What to Know About the Various Legal Disputes Over the Apple Watch

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In a win for Apple, a U.S. federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit earlier this week claiming that the tech giant had illegally monopolized the U.S. market for heart-monitoring apps for the Apple Watch. The lawsuit, filed by medical technology startup AliveCor, comes amid years of legal tussle between the two companies, centered around claims of antitrust and intellectual property infringement by Apple.

“AliveCor’s lawsuit challenged Apple’s ability to improve important capabilities of the Apple Watch that consumers and developers rely on, and today’s outcome confirms that is not anticompetitive,” Apple said in a statement provided to media outlets.

The details of Tuesday’s judgment remain sealed. Still, a redacted version is expected to be made public in the coming weeks.

AliveCor said it plans to appeal the ruling, saying in a statement provided to media outlets that it “will continue to vigorously protect our intellectual property to benefit our consumers and promote innovation.”

The ruling brings a temporary reprieve to Apple, which has faced separate legal setbacks over its watch technology in recent weeks. The Apple Watch, one of the company’s best-selling products and a frontrunner in the global wearable medical device market, predicted to be worth $132.5 billion by 2031, has faced years of legal challenges.

But despite one ruling forcing Apple to turn off the blood-oxygen-monitoring feature in two of its newest models, it seems the company will stay in the watch business for a while. CEO Tim Cook recently told CNBC that “there’s lots of reasons to buy the watch even without the blood oxygen sensor,” one of the health features most scrutinized by courts and competitors, AppleInsider reported.

AliveCor

In 2021, AliveCor filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple over the heart-monitoring technology used in the Apple Watch, claiming that Apple had abused its monopolistic power with the electrocardiogram (ECG) technology. “Apple’s tactics in the heartrate analysis market, have injured competition, reduced consumer choice, and potentially damaged public health,” AliveCor CEO Priya Abani said in a statement at the time.

AliveCor

In 2021, AliveCor filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple over the heart-monitoring technology used in the Apple Watch, claiming that Apple had abused its monopolistic power with the electrocardiogram (ECG) technology. “Apple’s tactics in the heartrate analysis market, have injured competition, reduced consumer choice, and potentially damaged public health,” AliveCor CEO Priya Abani said in a statement at the time.

AliveCor had previously filed separate patent infringement suits against Apple. In 2021, it also filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission (ITC) seeking to ban the import of Apple Watches in the U.S.

AliveCor claims that during a 2015 meeting its cofounder had with Apple executives to demonstrate AliveCor’s heart-monitoring device KardiaBand, Apple was told it wanted to collaborate on the technology. Apple countered that it had hosted hundreds of such meetings without promises of partnership.

According to the antitrust lawsuit, Apple announced the heart health feature for its Apple Watch more than a year after the meeting and just hours after AliveCor informed them of the Kardiaband launch date. The Apple Watch went on to dominate the market and, according to AliveCor, to effectively prevent third parties from offering competing heart-rate-monitoring apps on the device.

Masimo

In 2020, medical technology company Masimo sued Apple for infringing on ten patents to measure blood oxygen levels and heart rate. In December, the ITC banned the Series 9 and Ultra 2 models of the Apple Watch after finalizing its decision that the blood oxygen sensors in the devices did indeed infringe on patents owned by Masimo and its subsidiary Cercacor Laboratories.

That ban was paused after just one day, on Dec. 27, by a federal appeals court, allowing the watches to go back on sale. But the court decided to reinstate the ban in January—a move welcomed by Masimo.

“It affirms that even the largest and most powerful companies must respect the intellectual rights of American inventors and must deal with the consequences when they are caught infringing others’ patents,” Joe Kiani, Founder and CEO of Masimo, said of the reinstated ban in a statement.

Apple redesigned the Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches to get around the import ban, dropping blood oxygen features for the two models. While the redesigned watches, which have been on sale in the U.S. since Jan. 18, still include the blood-oxygen-monitoring sensor, it has been made not functional, pending an appeal.

Masimo has been feuding with Apple since 2013, when the latter hired an engineer previously the chief technical officer of Cercacor Laboratories, followed by about 20 other ex-employees from Masimo. Masimo accused Apple of poaching its staff to steal its patented technology.

Other notable lawsuits related to the Apple Watch

It’s not just companies that are going up against Apple. Individuals have also engaged in David vs. Goliath-style legal battles with the tech giant.

In 2019, in a federal court, Apple was sued in federal court by Joseph Wiesel, a New York cardiologist, alleging that the company used his patented monitoring tool to detect heartbeat irregularities. A trial date has yet to be set for that case, with the court granting Apple’s application for a stay of the proceedings in 2021, pending a decision from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Apple’s request for a reexamination.

In a 2021 lawsuit not to do anything with cardio technology, an app developer and former Pinterest engineer alleged that Apple had banned his app for a FlickType watch keyboard from the App Store but later allowed competing keyboard apps that ripped off the FlickType keyboard, which led to the plummeting of FlickType’s revenue. That lawsuit was settled with undisclosed terms in 2022.

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