Apple Watch has been gradually getting more useful features since the release of the first series back in 2015. One of those upgrades, in particular, could see recent models barred from sale in the US, but despite the headlines, it's still way too early to write an obituary for the Apple Watch.
The issue stems from a patent battle concerning the smartwatch's electrocardiogram (ECG) technology. California-based medical device company AliveCor has accused Apple of infringing on its patents by including the ECG feature. Its case has just been given a boost, but a ban isn't on the cards yet (see our roundup of the best Apple Watch Series 8 prices for the lowdown on latest devices).
In 2017, AliveCor launched KardiaBand, an FDA-approved wristband accessory that could be attached to the Apple Watch to measure heart rhythm. However, just one year later, Apple went and rendered the product redundant by gaining regulatory approval for its own built-in ECG tool, which it launched on Apple Watch Series 4.
AliveCor pulled KardiaBand from the market soon after, but in 2021, it complained to the US International Trade Commission (ITC), arguing that Apple had infringed on its patents. In December last year, The ITC sided with AliveCor and ruled that Apple Watches with ECG should be banned from import into the US. That's just become more of a real possibility because US president Joe Biden has decided not to veto any potential import ban.
However, a ban cannot be enacted yet. That's because the US Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) Patent Trial and Appeal Board has separately ruled (opens in new tab) that AliveCor’s invention is unpatentable and shouldn't have been granted a patent in the first place. It concluded in December that a person “of ordinary skill" in the art of cardiac monitoring technology could have independently arrived at the same invention. AliveCor has appealed against that decision.
The company's CEO Priya Abani has welcomed the Biden administration's decision not to veto the ITC ruling, saying that it "goes beyond AliveCor and sends a clear message to innovators that the US will protect patents." However, her company would need to win its appeal against the USPTO decision at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit before a ban on Apple Watch imports could be introduced. While it's possible that this could happen, t doesn't seem highly likely.
If you're considering buying an Apple Watch and want to get in quick just to be safe, you'll find the best prices listed below. You can learn more about the devices in our Apple Watch Series 8 review and our Apple Watch Ultra review.