The legal drama between Apple and Masimo over the Apple Watch blood oxygen sensor is a classic David vs. Goliath story, illustrating the power dynamics at play in the tech world. It’s a tale of innovation, intellectual property (IP) rights, and the strategic maneuvers of a tech titan. 

Masimo, a lesser-known yet innovative medical tech company, accused Apple of infringing its patented pulse oximetry technology. This technology, critical for measuring blood oxygen levels, is a key feature in Apple’s health and fitness tracking capabilities. 

The Backstory of the Masimo and Apple Lawsuit

Prior to the case, Apple had discussions with Masimo regarding the use of their medical technology, but negotiations fell through. They later hired two Masimo executives and key engineers, a move Masimo alleged was part of a strategy to duplicate its technology. 

The lawsuit, which began in January 2020, underscores a deeper issue—the clash between IP rights between companies of vastly different sizes. The initial trial resulted in a hung jury, meaning they could not agree upon a verdict—a scenario that isn’t too surprising given Apple’s extensive resources and influence. Masimo, however, took a different route by bringing the case to the International Trade Commission (ITC), which is a separate entity under the Executive branch’s oversight. 

Apple gambled by choosing to let the dispute play out, rather than reaching a licensing agreement with Masimo,. In October 2023, the ITC ruled in Masimo’s favor, recognizing that Apple infringed its IP. This led to an import ban on the Apple Watches carrying the disputed technology, which was set to go into effect on December 26, 2023. 

In response, Apple announced its decision to remove the blood oxygen monitoring feature from the affected models in the U.S. market. In doing so, it was able to get around the legal restrictions while still maintaining its presence in one of its largest markets. 

A Broader Dialogue: The IP Rights of Smaller Entities 

This dispute brings light to the interplay between technology, health, law, and other ruling bodies outside of the judicial system. Apple’s choice to disable the disputed features, rather than stopping sales altogether, reflects a calculated balance between legal obligations and market demands. The situation may open a broader dialogue on the conduct of large corporations when it comes to the IP rights of smaller entities. 

Legal battles like these are not just about determining who is right or wrong. They are part of a larger narrative of how technology giants navigate the waters of innovation, competition, and intellectual responsibility without infringing on the rights of other. 

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The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.