Could Patent Conflicts Choke mHealth Growth?

Posted on November 2, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

This week I caught a very interesting piece in MobiHealthNews which took a look at the possibility that the mHealth world is ripe for patent clashes.

Orion Armon, an attorney with Cooley LLP’s IP litigation practice, notes that companies in medical device, computer, networking and communications markets are busily patenting mHealth innovations, and that sooner or later, these patents will overlap.  The result: nasty turf battles which cost everyone involved boatloads of time and money.

While the number of patent lawsuits currently being filed in these industries is nowhere near the levels seen in say, the smartphone and computer  business, a few significant cases have emerged, Armon reports:

  • CardioNet filed lawsuits against MedNet Healthcare, MedTel 24, Rhythm Watch, AMI Cardiac Monitoring, ScottCare, and Ambucore Health Solutions;
  • Robert Bosch Healthcare filed lawsuits against ExpressMD, MedApps, Waldo Health, and Cardiocom; and
  • BodyMedia filed a lawsuit against Basis Science.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the patent ambitions of Airstrip, a tech vendor offering a mobile patient monitoring platform. The company’s President and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Cameron Powell, told MobiHealthNews that his company’s patents cover “taking any type of physiologic data—whether that’s from a sensor in the shoe, a home monitor, a blood pressure cuff, or a monitor in the hospital—and then re-rendering it on a native or HTML5 application on a mobile device.”  (My jaw dropped when I read that one.)

Since that interview, Airstrip has filed a lawsuit against mVisum Inc. alleging that four of the other vendor’s products infringe its patent.  It’s asking the court for an injunction barring future infringement, treble damages and attorneys’ fees.  These are standard provisions in a patent lawsuit, but from where I sit they’re pretty intimidating, and if the injunction is ordered mVisum has a heck of a battle on its hands.

As provider interest in mHealth applications continues to expand, I can only imagine that the patent battles are going to get uglier and more widespread.  It’s only logical, given the explosion of innovation we’re seeing in this space. But I do hope that patent wars don’t slow the introduction of new products too much at such a critical time in the mHealth industry’s growth.