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Biden to decide on Apple Watch import ban next week

Photo by NOAH BERGER/AFP via Getty Images

Unless President Biden vetoes a U.S. International Trade Commission ruling by Monday, imports of Apple Watches could be banned, The Hill reported Friday.

"Perhaps we shouldn’t have been shocked," David Albert wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion column detailing his small company's battle with one of Silicon Valley's most formidable technology titans.

"As Steve Jobs once said, 'We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.'"

Though AliveCor, Albert's company, won the first battle, it could well lose the war if President Biden steps in to render the ITC's ruling moot.

Last December, the ITC said Apple infringed on AliveCor's patents and imposed an import ban on the infringing devices. If President Biden allows the ITC's decision to stand, that could mean the end of popular Apple Watch model imports to the United States. If President Biden vetoes it, imports can continue.

It would not be the first time a president has overruled the ITC's decisions in technology-related matters.

Apple's lobbyists secured then-President Obama's veto of an ITC ban on iPhones and iPads in 2013, The Hill reported.

In that case, the ITC found that Apple had infringed on competitor Samsung's patents. The Obama administration justified a veto of ITC's ruling because of a potential ban's "effect on competitive conditions in the U.S. economy and the effect on U.S. consumers."

In other words, U.S. consumers purchase a lot of Apple products. Banning iPhone and iPad imports based on proven patent infringements was deemed unworthy of the likely substantial political and economic blow back such a ban would engender.

It is possible that on Monday, President Biden will use the same reasoning to permit Apple to continue to infringe on AliveCor's patents by vetoing the ITC's decision. If President Biden does not veto it, Albert's case carries on, and imports could cease.

Albert founded AliveCor in 2010. His medical device startup company patented its pioneering electrocardiogram technology for smartphones, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it.

AliveCor introduced KardiaBand in 2016, an Apple Watch-compatible wristband with an embedded sensor that used AliveCor's patented technology. They had worked with Apple in what Albert says initially was a "cooperative spirit."

Just two years later, Apple said it had created its own EKG tech that was embedded in the watch itself, making AliveCor's KardiaBand obsolete, at least for new models, Axios reported. To add insult to injury, Apple cut AliveCor out almost completely by making their watches' operating system incompatible with the KardiaBand.

Unlike some small companies that are forced to give up when Apple sets its sights on consuming them, AliveCor fought back.

AliveCor sued Apple in U.S. District Court in Texas in 2020. In 2021, it filed a complaint with the ITC and filed an antitrust suit against Apple in California.

Last December, in 2022, the ITC ruled in AliveCor's favor and imposed an import ban on the devices that used AliveCor's tech, specifically, Apple Watch Series 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, according to Axios. That ban is currently suspended as appeals regarding the patent dispute work their way through the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

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