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Apple Watch 9 and Ultra 2 sales resume as court pauses ban

Both watch models will be available online and in Apple Stores as a US appeals court has temporarily paused the sales and import ban.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
Apple Watch Ultra 2, captured by iPhone 15 Pro Max
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Looking to buy an Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 directly from Apple? You're in luck. Following a patent dispute over Apple's use of the device's blood oxygen sensor, the International Trade Commission (ITC) halted sales and imports of those two models. Now, that ruling has been suspended courtesy of a federal appeals court.

Also: The best smartwatches you can buy: Apple, Samsung, Google, and more compared

Following the lifting of the ban, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 are up for sale in some physical Apple Stores with greater availability expected by Saturday,  Apple spokesperson Nikki Rothberg told The Verge. Online sales at Apple's website are due to resume Thursday by 3 p.m. ET.

"Apple's teams have worked tirelessly over many years to develop technology that empowers users with industry-leading health, wellness and safety features and we are pleased the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has stayed the exclusion order while it considers our request to stay the order pending our full appeal," Rothberg said in a statement sent to The Verge.

Ordered by the ITC, the ban was put into effect due to a patent scuffle between Apple and medical technology firm Masimo over the Apple Watch's blood oxygen sensor. Masimo has accused Apple of infringing on its patents by installing the technology into certain Apple Watch models. Masimo also claims that a meeting between the two companies a decade ago -- ostensibly to discuss a collaboration -- was a ruse by Apple to learn more about the technology to use it in its own products.

Further, Masimo has criticized Apple for hiring several of its employees ahead of the initial Apple Watch launch. Apple naturally denied the charges and also filed a patent infringement countersuit against Masimo in 2020. Following a judge's finding that Apple violated the patent, the ruling went to the ITC, which then imposed the ban on the two latest Watch models.

The ban itself affected only the Series 9 and Ultra 2 and only sales directly from Apple, which meant the two devices could still be sold by third-party retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon. Also, the ban impacted only watches with blood oxygen monitoring, so models like the Apple Watch SE could still be sold. However, the ban also prevented Apple from importing the affected watches, preventing the company from sending the devices to other retailers.

Also: ZDNET's buying guide to pick the best Apple Watch for you

Filing an emergency appeal to the US Court of Appeals to suspend the ban, Apple argued that it would suffer irreparable harm if the ban were left in place, especially since the ITC said it would require at least two weeks to respond to Apple's appeal to the commission's ruling.

The lifting of the ban is only temporary as the battle rages on. Apple has been searching for ways to resolve any alleged patent issues, including a software update or redesign of the affected watches. However, Masimo contends that the source of the conflict is hardware-based and that a simple software tweak wouldn't fly.

For now, the US Customs and Border Protection is set to review any changes that Apple makes to the watches on January 12 to see if they resolve the matter. The US appeals court is scheduled to hear Apple's motion for a permanent stay on the ban as soon as January 15. At that point, the suspension of the ban could continue until the court issues a final ruling on the patent skirmish.

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