June 21, 2024

Apple Watches on display.

Now you see them, soon you won’t.
Image: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images (Getty Images)

If you don’t get an Apple Watch for Christmas, you might not be able to get one at all.

Apple announced Monday (Dec. 18) that it’s halting US sales of its higher-end Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 models, pending a patent dispute with medical device company Masimo over technology that measures blood oxygen levels. You can still get an Apple Watch SE if you want, because it doesn’t have that feature.

The watches have only been available since September, but now consumers have until just Dec. 21 to buy them online. They’ll still be available in-store after that, but only until Dec. 24.

The dispute goes back to early 2020, when Apple filed for patents on the blood oxygen–reading technology. Such grievances have become common among smaller firms that work with Apple to develop new features and tech, according to the Wall Street Journal, though Apple denied to the paper that it steals ideas.

Will Apple get lucky again?

Masimo, which had worked on a similar feature, sued Apple for violating trade secrets. That suit ended in a mistrial, but Masimo separately appealed to the International Trade Commission (ITC), a US body that adjudicates trade-related intellectual property disputes. The ITC sided with Masimo and ordered Apple to stop importing the watches from Asia for sale in the US.

It’s possible that president Joe Biden could veto the ITC ruling by a Dec. 25 deadline and allow sales to proceed, but US presidents seldom make such moves. Apple got lucky back in 2012, when Barack Obama vetoed an ITC ban on certain iPhone and iPad sales, but it’s not clear the company will be so fortunate again. This time last year, the ITC ruled that the Apple Watch violated a patent from a different medical device firm, AliveCor, and in February, the Biden administration announced that it wouldn’t veto that ruling.

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