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The clock is ticking on a possible US import ban for Apple Watch

What's the time? It's time to go to court to see if the iGiant crushed a rival's heart-watching apps

The Biden Administration has decided not to veto a ruling, which could result in an import ban on Apple Watches that include patent-infringing heart monitoring hardware.

By not issuing a review during the 60-day window allowed, the White House has effectively approved a December decision by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) that found Apple has infringed on electrocardiogram (ECG) patents held by AliveCor.

The ITC's limited exclusion order and cease and desist order barring the importation of offending Apple Watches – and the $2 per Watch bond Apple will owe for all imports during the 60-day review window – are therefore one step closer to implementation. 

AliveCor, which specializes in heart monitoring hardware and software, used to produce a watch strap called the KardiaBand that connected to Apple Watch Series 1–3 devices to add ECG capabilities. The company accused Apple of infringing on its patents by adding ECG capabilities to the Apple Watch in Series 4, and by making newer Apple Watch models incompatible with the KardiaBand.

AliveCor has since discontinued its product.

"This decision goes beyond AliveCor and sends a clear message to innovators that the US will protect patents to build and scale new technologies that benefit consumers," stated AliveCor CEO Priya Abani. 

As first reported by Reuters, AliveCor is also suing Apple in California federal court for monopolizing the US market for Apple Watch heart rate analysis apps. Apple has countersued, alleging AliveCor has infringed on some of its patents, too. 

Apple Watches aren't going anywhere yet

With cryptocurrency investments just not as cool as they used to be, it might be tempting to see the Apple Watch as a hot new investment – scoop one up now and you could corner the market once that ban goes into effect. 

Not so fast.

As AliveCor admitted in its own press release announcing the Biden Administration's non-veto, bans will not come into force until appeals in the case have been heard. Those hearings might invalidate the contentious patents.

In December, the US Patent and Trademark Office's Trial and Appeal Board decided [PDF] that a patent being claimed in AliveCor's case was invalid because Apple had demonstrated that similar technology had been developed by medical professionals and published prior to AliveCor's patent filing. 

US patent no. 10,595,731 – specifically its first 30 claims – is the first patent cited in the ITC decision, and precisely what the USPTO invalidated. AliveCor has filed an appeal [PDF] in the decision, and it'll have to be settled before Apple Watches are impounded at the border.

Apple didn't respond to our questions about how it intends to respond, but is reportedly planning to appeal the ITC decision on the grounds that it would have a negative effect on public health. ®

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