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A 10-year-old email might have led to the Apple Watch ban in 2023

Published Dec 27th, 2023 7:56AM EST
Apple Watch Ultra 2 with blood oxygen feature / Apple Watch ban
Image: José Adorno for BGR

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Surprisingly, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 are banned from being sold by Apple in the United States due to a legal battle. After Cupertino announced it might have to halt Apple Watch sales by December 21 at its online store and December 24 at its physical stores, the company actually had to remove these watches, as the United States International Trade Commission decided in October that Apple infringed two blood oxygen patents from Masimo.

While legal battles in the tech field are usual, especially when talking about the world’s most valuable company, a question remained: what could have led to this dispute? Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman might have the answer for that.

How a Brazilian played a key role in the Apple Watch ban in 2023

According to the journalist, about ten years ago, before the Apple Watch was even announced, Marcelo Lamego sent a late-night email to Tim Cook saying: “I strongly believe that we can develop the new wave of technology that will make Apple the No. 1 brand in the medical, fitness and wellness market.”

A few weeks later, Lamego was hired by Apple. In a few months, he filed about a dozen patents on sensors and blood-oxygen algorithms from a wearable device. Then, in July 2014, he left the company.

Marcelo Lamego was a Stanford engineering Ph.D. and chief technical officer of Cercacor Laboratories Inc, a sister company of Masimo Corp – which has now banned the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 from the US.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 with blood oxygen feature / Apple Watch banImage source: José Adorno for BGR

As reported by Bloomberg, this email, in addition to the patents from Lamego, led Masimo to sue Apple. Even though these patents were published years before Apple introduced the blood oxygen sensor with the Apple Watch Series 6, this is the reason why Cupertino is facing this issue now.

Although Bloomberg won’t make this claim, what you can understand after reading the story is that Lamego pulled a fast one on Apple and Tim Cook. He had privileged knowledge from another company, filed several patents that he shouldn’t have, left Apple, and waited for the chaos.

Where are we going next?

At this moment, especially after President Joe Biden decided not to interfere in ITC’s ruling, Apple might need to tweak its software to turn off this function or partner with Masimo to use its technology.

It’s unclear how much a settlement/partnership could cost Apple, but it won’t be cheap. In the meantime, Apple and Masimo are scheduled to return to court over patent issues in late October. Still, I’m sure Apple won’t risk losing more money without selling the Apple Watch or delaying the upcoming Apple Watch X/Series 10 announcement.

José Adorno Tech News Reporter

José is a Tech News Reporter at BGR. He has previously covered Apple and iPhone news for 9to5Mac, and was a producer and web editor for Latin America broadcaster TV Globo. He is based out of Brazil.