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Apple Loses Antitrust Ruling Over Heart Monitor App Market

March 22, 2022, 1:59 PM

Apple Inc. must face antitrust litigation over its alleged scheme to corner the market for smartphone apps capable of monitoring a user’s pulse for potentially life-threatening cardiac irregularities, a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., ruled.

Judge Jeffrey S. White advanced most of the lawsuit by AliveCor Inc., which has accused the tech giant of implementing software changes to its Apple Watch operating system aimed at undermining the SmartRhythm app, forcing the developer to pull the product from the market over safety concerns.

White, writing for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, cited claims that Apple intentionally “made it effectively impossible for third parties to inform a user when to take an ECG” through an update “to all earlier Apple Watch models” that “did not improve user experience.”

The update’s “purpose and effect” was allegedly “to prevent third parties from identifying irregular heart rate situations and from offering competing heart rate analysis apps,” the judge wrote Monday. “Plaintiff’s allegations plausibly establish that Apple’s conduct was anti-competitive.”

The suit, filed in May, accuses Apple of engaging in “behind-the-scenes sabotage” of heart rate analysis apps—potentially endangering the lives of users who relied on them—after deciding to incorporate competing technology into the fourth generation of the Apple Watch.

AliveCor has made similar claims in a series of patent infringement and trade cases, and the International Trade Commission has announced that it’s investigating the allegations.

Although the ruling Monday largely handed a victory to AliveCor, White did narrow the suit. He rejected claims that Apple tried to corner the “hardware-based” market for wearable electrocardiogram monitors like AliveCor’s KardiaBand, saying the company failed to define that market.

“The complaint contains few allegations about this proposed alternative market, and it does not contain allegations related to the demand for wearables, nor does it allege why portable or mobile ECG-capable devices are not reasonable substitutes,” the judge wrote.

AliveCor is represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP. Apple is represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

The case is AliveCor Inc. v. Apple Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 21-cv-3958, 3/21/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Leonard in Washington at mleonard@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com