White House opts not to veto ITC ruling in favor of AliveCor in ECG patent battle with Apple

A potential import ban on the Apple Watch is still on the table as an International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling against the technology cleared presidential review this month.

Rulings such as the late December one between Apple and AliveCor—which determined the built-in ECG technology within some Apple Watches infringes on AliveCor’s own patented portable ECG devices—can be vetoed by the White House within 60 days. In this case, the Biden administration has allowed the ruling to stand, AliveCor announced this week.

“We applaud President Biden for upholding the ITC’s ruling and holding Apple accountable for infringing the patents that underpin our industry-leading ECG technology,” said AliveCor CEO Priya Abani. “This decision goes beyond AliveCor and sends a clear message to innovators that the U.S. will protect patents to build and scale new technologies that benefit consumers.”

The ITC’s decision came with the potential penalty of a limited exclusion order that would bar further imports of ECG-equipped Apple Watches into the U.S., as well as a $2 bond for each of the devices imported or sold stateside during the 60-day presidential review period.

The penalty actions have yet to take effect, however, as additional patent challenges between the two companies continue to play out in court.

Apple, for its part, told Fierce Medtech in an email that it plans to appeal the ITC ruling. The tech giant also remains confident that the import ban won’t come to pass since the AliveCor patents at the heart of the ITC decision were deemed invalid in a separate ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in December; AliveCor is currently appealing that ruling.

The company suggested that a ban on the Apple Watch’s ECG technology could have a negative impact on consumers’ lives, pointing to the more than 500 letters from users that were included in Apple’s briefs to the ITC and which credited the wearable device with saving the wearers’ lives.

Apple also reiterated the statement it issued after the ITC’s ruling: “While we firmly disagree with the ITC's decision [in December], 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.”

In its original lawsuit against Apple, AliveCor argued that the ECG technology that was first introduced in 2018’s Series 4 Apple Watch violated a handful of patents protecting the inner workings of AliveCor’s own KardiaMobile and other portable ECG devices.

The ITC agreed, determining that Apple had indeed infringed on two of AliveCor’s patents. But the PTAB decision told a different story: The board concluded in December that both of those patents plus one more held by the devicemaker were “unpatentable” and concerned technologies that could’ve been designed by anyone “of ordinary skill in the art” of cardiac monitoring mechanisms.

If the PTAB decision stands after AliveCor’s appeal is complete, it would therefore invalidate the ITC’s own ruling.

Meanwhile, the duo is already planning their next face-off. In that case, AliveCor has alleged that Apple engaged in anticompetitive behavior, teeing up an antitrust trial that’s slated to begin early next year.