Apple is no longer selling the newest Apple Watch in America after the White House declines to overturn ban

Apple Watch Ultra 2.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2. Photo credit: Newshub.

By David Goldman and Clare Duffy of CNN

The clock has wound down on the newest Apple Watch after the White House declined to issue a last-minute, emergency action to keep the best-selling smartwatch on store shelves.

The Biden White House had until the end of Christmas day to overturn a US International Trade Commission ruling that prevents Apple from selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, among other newer models, because they violate patents registered to another company. But, as expected, it did not intervene.

The office of US Trade Representative Katherine Tai confirmed the decision in a statement Tuesday (local time).

"After careful consultations, Ambassador Tai decided not to reverse the ITC's determination and the ITC's decision became final on December 26, 2023," Tai's office said.

Apple had already taken the offending Watch models off its online store, and Apple Store locations opened Tuesday without any of the latest top-of-the-line watches in stock. The cheaper Apple Watch SE, which was not part of the ruling, remains on sale, but the ban affects the Apple Watch Series 6 and later, and all models of Apple Watch Ultra.

Apple appeals

Apple has filed an appeal to the Federal Circuit court to overturn the ITC ruling.

The company said Tuesday it was pursuing both legal and technical options to resume imports of the most advanced watches, including submitting a redesign of the Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches for US Customs approval.

In its emergency appeal motion Tuesday, Apple requested a temporary stay on the ban at least until US Customs can consider its redesign, which is expected to take place by January 12. The company said in the motion that it could "suffer irreparable harm" if the ban is kept in place while the appeal is ongoing.

"At Apple, we work tirelessly to create products and services that meaningfully impact users' lives. It's what drives our teams - Clinical, Design and Engineering - to dedicate years to developing scientifically validated health, fitness and wellness features for Apple Watch," Apple said in a statement.

"We strongly disagree with the USITC decision and resulting exclusion order, and are taking all measures to return Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to customers in the US as soon as possible."

Patent violation

In October, the US International Trade Commission ruled that Apple was in violation of a pulse oximeter patent, which uses light-based technology to read blood-oxygen levels. Masimo, a medical device maker, holds the patent in question.

Other retailers, including Amazon and Best Buy, among others, continue to sell their remaining stock of Apple Watches in stores and online. But the ITC ruling prevents Apple from importing more of the smartwatches to the United States.

The lower priced Apple Watch SE continues to be available for purchase in-stores and online in the United States. And watches will continue to work for customers who purchased the Series 9 and Ultra 2 models before the ban went into effect on December 25, according to the company.

Apple has routinely marketed its smartwatch as a life-saving device, which has helped launch the Apple Watch into the stratosphere, making it the most popular watch sold around the world. But its skirmish with Masimo threatens to undermine that.

On December 18, Apple opted to preemptively begin taking the Series 9 and Ultra 2 versions of the Apple Watch out of stock in anticipation of the ruling kicking in.

"Apple strongly disagrees with the order and is pursuing a range of legal and technical options to ensure that Apple Watch is available to customers," the company said in a statement at the time. But Apple (AAPL) also pledged to "take all measures" to bring the Apple Watch back to US customers soon.

The company may be able to make software tweaks, perhaps changing the way the Watch interacts with the pulse oximeter so that it does not violate Masimo's patent. But such a change could take time, and there's no guarantee that the ITC will accept Apple's potential solution.

Masimo CEO Joe Kiani told CNN he believes Apple deliberately infringed on his company's patents. But the companies have been at loggerheads for years. In October 2022, Apple filed two patent infringement lawsuits against Masimo.

Although an intervention from the White House did not take place, there is some precedent for a president to overturn the ITC. In 2013, President Barack Obama vetoed an ITC ruling to ban older iPhones and iPads after it determined Apple was in violation of one of Samsung's patents.