Saturday, February 4, 2023

ITC: Apple Watches violate AliveCor patents but no import ban yet

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The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Thursday that Apple Watches with ECG functionality violate two AliveCor patents, but the agency put an import ban on hold.

The ITC issued a limited exclusion order prohibiting further imports and a cease and desist order against Apple. It also set a bond of $2 per unit imported or sold during the Presidential review period. However, enforcement of those orders, including the bond, is suspended until the case before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s is resolved.

The decision comes weeks after the PTAB ruled three AliveCor patents regarding the detection of heart conditions like cardiac arrhythmias were not patentable, citing earlier advancements that made the technology “obvious.” AliveCor appealed that decision. 

The final determination by the ITC was set to come down earlier this month, but Apple petitioned to suspend or delay the order due to the PTAB case.

“At Apple, our teams work tirelessly to create the best products and services in the world, with technology that empowers users with industry-leading health, wellness and safety features,” an Apple spokesperson wrote to MobiHealthNews. “While we firmly disagree with the ITC’s decision today, we are pleased that the exclusion order has been put on pause, consistent with past precedent. The patents on which AliveCor’s case rest have been found invalid, and for that reason, we should ultimately prevail in this matter.”

The tech giant and AliveCor have been in the midst of a patent dispute for several years. In 2020, AliveCor sued Apple, arguing features included in the Apple Watch Series 4 and later infringed upon its patents. The company had offered the KardiaBand, an Apple Watch strap that added ECG functionality, but it ended sales not long after Apple added those features to its own devices. In 2021, AliveCor took the battle to the ITC, aiming to bar U.S. sales of Apple Watches.

The ITC ruling follows an initial determination from the summer that sided with AliveCor. At the time, an administrative judge found Apple had violated two of AliveCor’s patents.

“Today’s ITC ruling is a win for innovation and consumer choice,” Priya Abani, CEO of AliveCor, said in a statement. “The ruling underscores the importance of upholding intellectual property rights for companies like AliveCor and scores of others whose innovations are at risk of being suppressed by a Goliath like Apple. We look forward to continuing to build and innovate on our cardiac solutions to improve people’s lives.”

THE LARGER TREND

Apple has continued to expand its wearables’ health monitoring capabilities. Earlier this year, it received FDA clearance for an atrial fibrillation history feature that allows people diagnosed with the abnormal heart rhythm to monitor the condition using the latest version of watch OS.

But the ITC case isn’t the only court battle for Apple. AliveCor has also filed an antitrust suit against the tech giant. Meanwhile, Apple sued AliveCor in early December, alleging patent infringement. In the complaint, Apple said it “now brings this action to set the record straight as to who is the real pioneer and to stop AliveCor’s rampant infringement that unlawfully appropriates Apple’s intellectual property.”

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