Apple has faced a series of legal challenges recently over allegations of infringing on intellectual property rights. The latest of these comes from AliveCor, a medical technology company based in Mountain View, California.
Apple invests considerable amounts of money to developing its healthcare technologies. One of the more promising ones is their noninvasive blood sugar monitoring system for Apple Watches. While Apple has shown work in these innovations, they are also accused of infringing on other companies patents in pursuit of providing their health monitoring products to customers.
AliveCor accused Apple of infringing three patents related to its KardiaBand, an accessory for the Apple Watch that monitors a user’s heart rate, detects irregularities, and performs an electrocardiogram (ECG) to identify heart problems such as atrial fibrillation. AliveCor claimed that Apple copied its technology starting with the Series 4 Apple Watches and drove the company out of the market by making its operating system incompatible with the KardiaBand.
Last year, AliveCor took its case to the US International Trade Commission (ITC), which ruled in December that Apple had infringed on AliveCor’s patent for ECG technology in smartwatches that contain pulse oximeters. The ITC issued a limited exclusion order, and a cease-and-desist order, and set a bond amounting to $2 per unit of infringing Apple Watches sold during the 60-day presidential review period.
Apple responded to the ruling by saying it “firmly” disagreed with the decision but was pleased that the import ban was paused. A group of Democratic congressional representatives had previously asked the ITC not to ban imports of Apple Watches, many of which are made in China, even if it ruled in favor of AliveCor. They supported Apple’s argument that limiting access to heart-monitoring technology would have a negative impact on public health.
AliveCor CEO Priya Abani hailed the ITC decision as underscoring the importance of intellectual property rights for companies “whose innovations are at risk of being suppressed by a Goliath like Apple.”
However, Apple has not been the only company to face intellectual property disputes with medical technology firms. In January, an administrative judge of the ITC issued an initial ruling in favor of Masimo Corp., which claimed that the Apple Watch Series 6 infringed on one of its patents for using light sensors to gauge blood oxygen levels in the watch’s pulse oximeter. The full commission now must consider the case, and a decision may come this spring.
Despite these legal setbacks, Apple remains a dominant player in the smartwatch market. The company has introduced ECG technology in all its latest Apple Watch models, including the most recent Series 8, released in September. Meanwhile, AliveCor has separately sued Apple in California federal court for allegedly monopolizing the US market for Apple Watch heart-rate monitoring apps and has filed a related patent-infringement lawsuit against Apple in Texas federal court.
The Biden administration will have a 60-day period to decide whether to veto the import ban based on policy concerns. In the meantime, Apple and AliveCor will likely continue to wage legal battles over intellectual property rights in the fast-moving world of medical technology.