Apple handed a victory in Apple Watch antitrust lawsuit with AliveCor


Apple has been handed a victory in its ongoing legal battle with AliveCor over the Apple Watch’s heart monitoring technology.

AliveCor had alleged that Apple restricted third-party access to certain Apple Watch heart rate data, a move that it deemed was anticompetitive. A US District Court judge, however, has ruled entirely in Apple’s favor and said the company will not have to face the lawsuit in a trial.

Update 3:54 p.m. PT: Added AliveCor’s statement below. AliveCor says it will appeal.

In a statement to 9to5Mac, an Apple spokesperson said:

“At Apple, our teams are constantly innovating to create products and services that empower users with health, wellness, and life-saving features. AliveCor’s lawsuit challenged Apple’s ability to improve important capabilities of the Apple Watch that consumers and developers rely on, and today’s outcome confirms that is not anticompetitive. We thank the Court for its careful consideration of this case, and will continue to protect the innovations we advance on behalf of our customers against meritless claims.”

The case centered around upgrades to Apple Watch’s heart rate algorithm made as part of watchOS 5 in 2018, with the company upgrading from the “Heart Rate Path Optimizer” algorithm (HRPO) to the “Heart Rate Neural Network” algorithm (HRNN). AliveCor argued that these changes hurt the experience of using its SmartRhythm feature, available in its own watchOS app.

AliveCor then filed this antitrust lawsuit in May 2021, saying that Apple should have continued to make Apple Watch heart rate data available from the pre-watchOS 5 algorithms as well. Apple, however, did not do this because it found that the HRNN was more accurate.

Apple also said that it has always made Apple Watch heart rate data available to developers, including with a Workout Session API in watchOS 5. It additionally argued that the changes to the heart rate algorithm in watchOS 5 were genuine product improvements to the Apple Watch and that other companies have no right to impact Apple’s design and business decisions.

In a summary judgement, US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in favor of Apple in this case. The details of the decision are unavailable for confidentiality reasons, but Apple says a public version will be available in a few weeks.

The judge found that Apple’s changes to watchOS were not anticompetitive and that the case should not go to a jury trial.

Additionally, a separate dispute between Apple and AliveCor over patents related to Apple Watch’s ECG feature continues. Today’s decision has no bearing on that patent dispute.

California’s Unfair Competition Law

Apple also points out the similarities to the outcome in this AliveCor antitrust case and its battle with Epic Games – but there’s one key difference.

In the Epic Games case, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers ruled that Apple violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, forcing it to make changes to its anti-steering App Store guidelines.

This time around, however, the court rejected AliveCor’s claim that Apple violated California’s Unfair Competition Law. Had this not been the case, Apple would’ve been required to continue offering its previous-generation heart rate monitoring algorithm on Apple Watch.

The court’s decision affirms that Apple’s innovation on the Apple Watch – such as the more advanced HRNN algorithm – is procompetitive and pro-consumer, despite what AliveCor attempted and failed to argue. This, again, shares similarities with the Epic Games ruling, in which Judge Rogers pointed out the competitive benefit of the App Store and Apple’s app review process.

9to5Mac’s Take

By all measures, this is a major win for Apple – both in terms of this specific case involving AliveCor and the broader picture.

There is no situation in which it would’ve made sense for Apple to keep its older and less reliable “Heart Rate Path Optimizer” algorithm available after it had already debuted the new “Heart Rate Neural Network” algorithm. Why should Apple knowingly continue to include an older software feature when a newer and more reliable version is available? That’s a slippery slope and something that would’ve been detrimental to consumers.

Apple’s argument that courts are not in a position to intervene in situations like this is also a fair point – and one with which Judge White agreed.

AliveCor statement:

AliveCor is deeply disappointed and strongly disagrees with the court’s decision to dismiss our anti-competition case and we plan to appeal. We will continue to vigorously protect our intellectual property to benefit our consumers and promote innovation. The dismissal  decision does not impact AliveCor’s ongoing business; we will continue to design and provide the best portable ECG products and services to our customers. 

Separately, the ITC’s findings that Apple has infringed AliveCor’s patents still stand. Both the ITC and U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) appeals will be reviewed at the Federal Circuit in the Northern District of California in the coming months. In other recent developments, the PTAB recently ruled in AliveCor’s favor by instituting Inter Partes Review (IPR) of Apple’s patents and a stay of Apple’s countersuit.

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Apple has been handed a victory in its ongoing legal battle with AliveCor over the Apple Watch’s heart monitoring technology.

AliveCor had alleged that Apple restricted third-party access to certain Apple Watch heart rate data, a move that it deemed was anticompetitive. A US District Court judge, however, has ruled entirely in Apple’s favor and said the company will not have to face the lawsuit in a trial.

Update 3:54 p.m. PT: Added AliveCor’s statement below. AliveCor says it will appeal.

In a statement to 9to5Mac, an Apple spokesperson said:

“At Apple, our teams are constantly innovating to create products and services that empower users with health, wellness, and life-saving features. AliveCor’s lawsuit challenged Apple’s ability to improve important capabilities of the Apple Watch that consumers and developers rely on, and today’s outcome confirms that is not anticompetitive. We thank the Court for its careful consideration of this case, and will continue to protect the innovations we advance on behalf of our customers against meritless claims.”

The case centered around upgrades to Apple Watch’s heart rate algorithm made as part of watchOS 5 in 2018, with the company upgrading from the “Heart Rate Path Optimizer” algorithm (HRPO) to the “Heart Rate Neural Network” algorithm (HRNN). AliveCor argued that these changes hurt the experience of using its SmartRhythm feature, available in its own watchOS app.

AliveCor then filed this antitrust lawsuit in May 2021, saying that Apple should have continued to make Apple Watch heart rate data available from the pre-watchOS 5 algorithms as well. Apple, however, did not do this because it found that the HRNN was more accurate.

Apple also said that it has always made Apple Watch heart rate data available to developers, including with a Workout Session API in watchOS 5. It additionally argued that the changes to the heart rate algorithm in watchOS 5 were genuine product improvements to the Apple Watch and that other companies have no right to impact Apple’s design and business decisions.

In a summary judgement, US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in favor of Apple in this case. The details of the decision are unavailable for confidentiality reasons, but Apple says a public version will be available in a few weeks.

The judge found that Apple’s changes to watchOS were not anticompetitive and that the case should not go to a jury trial.

Additionally, a separate dispute between Apple and AliveCor over patents related to Apple Watch’s ECG feature continues. Today’s decision has no bearing on that patent dispute.

California’s Unfair Competition Law

Apple also points out the similarities to the outcome in this AliveCor antitrust case and its battle with Epic Games – but there’s one key difference.

In the Epic Games case, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers ruled that Apple violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, forcing it to make changes to its anti-steering App Store guidelines.

This time around, however, the court rejected AliveCor’s claim that Apple violated California’s Unfair Competition Law. Had this not been the case, Apple would’ve been required to continue offering its previous-generation heart rate monitoring algorithm on Apple Watch.

The court’s decision affirms that Apple’s innovation on the Apple Watch – such as the more advanced HRNN algorithm – is procompetitive and pro-consumer, despite what AliveCor attempted and failed to argue. This, again, shares similarities with the Epic Games ruling, in which Judge Rogers pointed out the competitive benefit of the App Store and Apple’s app review process.

9to5Mac’s Take

By all measures, this is a major win for Apple – both in terms of this specific case involving AliveCor and the broader picture.

There is no situation in which it would’ve made sense for Apple to keep its older and less reliable “Heart Rate Path Optimizer” algorithm available after it had already debuted the new “Heart Rate Neural Network” algorithm. Why should Apple knowingly continue to include an older software feature when a newer and more reliable version is available? That’s a slippery slope and something that would’ve been detrimental to consumers.

Apple’s argument that courts are not in a position to intervene in situations like this is also a fair point – and one with which Judge White agreed.

AliveCor statement:

AliveCor is deeply disappointed and strongly disagrees with the court’s decision to dismiss our anti-competition case and we plan to appeal. We will continue to vigorously protect our intellectual property to benefit our consumers and promote innovation. The dismissal  decision does not impact AliveCor’s ongoing business; we will continue to design and provide the best portable ECG products and services to our customers. 

Separately, the ITC’s findings that Apple has infringed AliveCor’s patents still stand. Both the ITC and U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) appeals will be reviewed at the Federal Circuit in the Northern District of California in the coming months. In other recent developments, the PTAB recently ruled in AliveCor’s favor by instituting Inter Partes Review (IPR) of Apple’s patents and a stay of Apple’s countersuit.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

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