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Apple Watch Closer to Possible US Import Ban After Biden Upholds Patent Ruling

The administration upheld a legal ruling that says Apple Watches infringed patents from health tech company AliveCor.

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Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
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Apple introduced an electrocardiogram feature to its wrist-worn devices in 2018.

Érika García / CNET

The Biden administration on Tuesday declined to overrule a US International Trade Commission decision that the Apple Watch had infringed health monitoring patents from medical device company AliveCor. As a result, the tech giant could face an import ban of its infringing Apple Watches, depending on how appeals work out.

AliveCor, which is based in California, said in a statement that it was informed the Biden administration wouldn't overrule a December decision from the ITC that found the Apple Watch infringed AliveCor patents involving electrocardiograms. Though the ITC decision could lead to a ban on Apple Watches, the US Patent and Trademark Office has also invalidated AliveCor's patents, a move that the medical tech company said it will appeal.

Apple, for its part, said in December that it expects to prevail in the case because AliveCor's patents had been found invalid. It plans to appeal the ITC's decision to federal court. 

AliveCor said the Biden administration's decision shows the US will protect important patents.

"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," AliveCor CEO Priya Abani said in a statement. 

The administration's decision marks the latest twist in a series of patent battles the tech giant has been fighting with medical device companies over key technologies in its Apple Watch. In addition to AliveCor's ECG patents, Apple is also fighting medical device company Masimo over patents for measuring heart rate and blood oxygen levels. 

Apple has a long history of fighting lawsuits over its technology. Those cases included a series of patent battles with smartphone rivals Samsung and, separately, Nokia. Apple settled with Samsung in 2018 and Nokia in 2017.