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Apple Announces Plans to Pause Sales of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the Wake of ITC Ruling

In a statement to 9to5Mac, Apple said that it “pausing” sales of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 in the United States, beginning later this week. Neither model of Watch will be available on Apple’s online store starting December 21st, and the company will no longer sell them at retail locations after December 24th. The announcement comes on the heels of a decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission earlier this year that was the result of an intellectual property complaint filed by Masimo, a medical technology company.

Apple and Masimo have been locked in disputes over the Apple Watch’s blood oxygen sensor for years, which Masimo says infringes patents it holds. The dispute is the subject of a federal court lawsuit and the complaint filed with the ITC, which ruled in Masimo’s favor in October. That decision is subject to executive review by the Biden administration and could be vetoed, but time is running out, and vetos are historically rare.

If President Biden doesn’t veto the ITC’s ruling by Christmas, the ruling will stand. Apple could appeal the ITC’s decision in federal court, but that won’t impact the ban on U.S. sales of the two Apple Watch models, according to 9to5Mac. Apple could also settle with Masimo and license its technology or try to find a way to work around Masimo’s patents.

If I had to guess what’s going on here, I’d say it’s a high-stakes game of corporate chicken. Masimo got a ruling from the ITC that gave it leverage, so they asked for a big licensing deal. The Biden administration probably doesn’t want to deal with the dispute or look like it’s bailing out a big tech company, so I bet it told the parties to work things out, assuming Apple would pay up. Whether it ultimately will, only Apple knows, but it’s decided to force the Biden administration’s hand on the veto. If the ruling is vetoed, Apple’s existing court fight with Masimo continues, and the Series 9 and Ultra 2 go back on sale on December 26th. If not, the company still has the option to settle, which I have to imagine is preferable to pulling products from shelves for a potentially extended period of time.