After having sales of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 banned in the US due to a patent dispute, Apple was able to put these models back in stores by switching off the blood oxygen feature. It was still somewhat unclear how exactly Apple was doing this, but 9to5Mac learned not only the method Apple has been using to limit the feature in the US, but also that this update was ready months ago.
Apple Watch loses its pulse oximeter functionality in the US
For context, a US court ruled in January 2023 that Apple had infringed one of Maximo’s pulse oximetry technology patents with the Apple Watch. In October, the ITC agreed with the decision and upheld the court’s ruling. As a result, Apple was forced to stop selling Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the US.
The ban was then put on hold while Apple appealed to the US court. However, the appeal was rejected and Apple had to halt sales again. The solution was to remove the pulse oximeter technology from Apple Watch models sold in the US. Apple told 9to5Mac that, as of today, it would sell a new version of the Series 9 and Ultra 2 models without the feature.
Apple’s US website has been updated to explain that “Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 no longer include the Blood Oxygen feature.” We later discovered that the revised models without the feature have part numbers ending in “LW/A.” But is Apple really shipping new hardware without the blood oxygen sensor?
Apparently not. 9to5Mac found out that Apple remotely updated a system file responsible for managing the availability of health features by region. The update disables the blood oxygen feature for any Apple Watch models with the identifier “LW/A,” which probably means that Apple could reverse this in the future.
But the most interesting thing is that the file blocking the pulse oximeter feature for LW/A Apple Watch models was uploaded to Apple’s servers in October 2023, the same month that the ITC upheld the judge’s ruling on patent infringement. So despite all the attempts, Apple was ready for the worst at the time.
What happens next?
The dispute between Apple and Masimo doesn’t seem close to an end. Apple has previously said that the appeals process could take over a year. However, as we noted earlier, Apple is removing the blood oxygen feature only for new Apple Watch models sold in the US, which means that those who already had the device before won’t be affected for now.
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