Apple and health tech company AliveCor have been engaged in a tug-of-war for years over AliveCor’s patented technology that allows an Apple Watch wristband to take ECG readings. After multiple back-and-forths, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) sided with AliveCor and found that Apple had infringed on their patent rights. This then got passed on to President Joe Biden for the required sixty-day review, and he has now officially confirmed the ruling – setting the stage for an import ban of the Apple Watch in the United States.
It all began back in 2015 when AliveCor first demonstrated how their patented technology could be used to measure ECG readings on an Apple Watch. Apple and AliveCor discussed a potential partnership, but nothing came of it. Then, in 2018, Apple made the surprise announcement that the Apple Watch Series 4 was capable of taking an ECG reading with no extra hardware needed. This raised eyebrows, especially from AliveCor, and it quickly became a full-blown patent case between the two companies.
AliveCor filed the legal complaint in 2021 and accused Apple of infringing on three of their patents related to ECG technology. In December of that year, the ITC delivered a major blow to Apple and agreed with AliveCor that Apple had infringed on the patents. It then passed it on to President Biden for his review, and today he has officially confirmed the ruling.
Priya Abani, CEO of AliveCor, hailed the victory in a statement: “We applaud President Biden for upholding the ITC’s ruling and holding Apple accountable for infringing the patents that underpin our industry-leading ECG technology. This decision goes beyond AliveCor and sends a clear message to innovators that the U.S. will protect patents to build and scale new technologies that benefit consumers.”
What remains to be seen is whether the ITC chooses to actually implement an import ban on the Apple Watch. In their original ruling, the ITC did in fact suggest an import ban, only for the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board to declare all three AliveCor patents invalid. That decision is still moving its way through appeals, and the import ban hinges upon that decision.
In a rare move, President Obama vetoed an ITC ruling in 2013 that would have resulted in an import ban on the iPhone and iPad as a result of the legal battle between Apple and Samsung. But this time, President Biden has declined to veto the ITC’s ruling, leaving Apple in a precarious situation and AliveCor victorious.
If AloneCor emerges victorious in its appeal with the USPTO, then the import ban on the Apple Watch is likely to go into effect. For both companies, it’s a wait and see game to see how the case plays out, with potentially huge ramifications on the horizon.
At the end of the day, this case stands for the importance of protecting patents for more advanced and beneficial technologies. With President Biden standing by the ITC’s ruling, it’s with an encouraging sign for innovators who will no longer fear that their ideas can be taken and used by wealthy companies.
Will the ITC follow through on their initial ruling and ultimately put an import ban on the Apple Watch? Only time will tell.
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