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Masimo CEO Kiani Takes a Risk in Pursuit of a Lucrative Settlement and Licensing Deal with Apple

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal (via 9to5Mac), Masimo founder and CEO Joe Kiani says that the company has spent $100 million on its lawsuit against Apple which started four years ago. That is a huge amount of money for Masimo to spend considering that the company’s profit last year amounted to $144 million. The suit alleged that Apple infringed on Masimo’s patents related to the pulse oximeter used on certain Apple Watch models.

Kiani says that someone needs to stand up to Apple

The pulse oximeter measures the saturation of oxygen carried in a person’s red blood cells and should range between 95% to 100%. A reading under 95% means that the person has low oxygen levels aka hypoxemia and might need supplemental oxygen. It could also indicate a problem with a person’s lungs.

Why is Kiani willing to spend so much money of Masimo’s cash on this particular case? His response was, “No one is standing up to them. If I can do it, it might change Apple for the better.” The answer also makes Kiani sound like a martyr willing to take such a big financial hit just to teach Apple a lesson.

As martyrs often are, Kiani was warned by his friends and other Masimo employees about the risks of going after his target. “People were telling me I’m crazy and I can’t go against Apple. They have unlimited resources.” Kiani did have his friendship with President Biden and perhaps he figured that this would keep the president from issuing a veto against the International Trade Commission’s Exclusion Order.

Biden did not bail out Apple but the company did get a reprieve when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit halted the Exclusion Order and ordered the ITC to respond to Apple’s request for a longer-term hold by January 10th. If the court agrees with Apple, the tech giant could get weeks or months while the Exclusion Order remains on hold to go through the process of appealing the initial ruling made against Apple last January. That ruling said Apple had infringed on Masimo’s patents.

With the Exclusion Order on hold for now, Apple also reportedly developed an alternate method for the Apple Watch to measure a wearer’s blood oxygen level. Apple allegedly submitted the changes with U.S. Customs with a ruling set for January 12th. If the agency agrees that the changes mean that Apple no longer infringes on Masimo’s patents, Apple will be allowed to ship the affected timepieces with the changes.

Kiani took in over $2 billion from earlier patent infringement cases dating back to 2006

While this battle against Apple could take many more years to resolve, Kiani has shown patience and resolve before. In 2006, Kiani won a patent dispute with rival pulse oximeter manufacturer Nellcor and collected nearly $800 million in damages and royalties. In another patent infringement case from 2016, Masimo collected $300 million from Royal Philips and garnered from them another $1 billion in licensing fees.

Kiani may sound like he has altruistic motives for taking on Apple. “I feel like I have to do this. If I can change the most powerful company in the world from continuing to act badly, that’ll have more impact on the world than anything else I’m doing,” he says. But as the earlier cases against Nellcor and Royal Philips prove, he isn’t against rolling the dice and spending $100 million with the opportunity of adding $1 billion or more to the company’s coffers.

Considering how important the Apple Watch and its reputation as a life-saving device is to Apple, the company might have to give in and license Masimo’s IP especially if its workaround isn’t enough to get Apple out from under Masimo’s patents.

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