Apple Steps Up Its Lobbying to Change Patent Rules

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After losing two complaints before the U.S. International Trade Commission, Apple has stepped up its lobbying to change the agency’s practices.

Over the past decade, some of Apple’s biggest regulatory headaches have come from a little-known federal agency called the U.S. International Trade Commission. The agency’s patent judges have found Apple guilty of appropriating innovations in smartphones, semiconductors and smartwatches. And recently, they forced Apple to remove a health feature from Apple Watches.

Now the tech giant is pushing back. While it defends itself from patent complaints before the I.T.C., Apple has begun lobbying lawmakers to help rewrite the agency’s rules.

The company has been campaigning across Washington for legislation that would make some patent owners ineligible to bring complaints before the I.T.C. It has sought to influence the language of committee reports that could affect how the agency levels punishments. And it has added to its lobbying might by enlisting one of the agency’s former commissioners.

The lobbying effort comes as Apple is enmeshed in a multiyear legal battle with two U.S. medical device makers over technology in the Apple Watch. The companies, AliveCor and Masimo, filed complaints in the I.T.C. against Apple in 2021 for appropriating innovations they had developed to measure the heart’s electrical activity and people’s blood oxygen levels.

After losing both cases, Apple this year removed the technology to measure blood oxygen in its watches, which infringed on Masimo’s patent. It is appealing the I.T.C.’s decision. A similar punishment is on hold as court proceedings continue related to the I.T.C.’s finding that Apple infringed on AliveCor’s innovations with the Apple Watch’s electrocardiogram feature.

Apple is trying to blunt the agency’s signature power. Unlike traditional patent courts, where juries or judges typically issue fines, the I.T.C.’s judges can discipline a company that violates a patent by banning imports of the infringing product.

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