Until now, the mHealth industry has experienced relatively few patent infringement conflicts, and little or no litigation instituted by non-practicing entities. But these trends may be disrupted within the next few years. Companies in the medical device, computer, networking, and communications industries are all patenting in the mHealth space, and the likely result will be a thicket of overlapping patents on mHealth products and their components. As the patent thicket grows, patent infringement conflicts likely will increase—especially as mHealth technologies mature and winners within the industry emerge.
To help you navigate the patent thicket, this article discusses the current patent landscape in the mHealth industry and concludes with recommendations that mHealth companies could pursue to manage their intellectual property more effectively and reduce patent infringement risk.
Summary of Findings
The number of mHealth patents issued by the Patent Office has increased steadily since 2000 (when the number of mHealth patent applications was negligible), and will continue to surge until at least 2014.
Large companies are winning the mHealth patent race by obtaining the vast majority of newly-issued mHealth patents.
Intellectual Ventures, a non-practicing patent aggregator, is patenting aggressively in the mHealth space. Licensing demands and litigation from IV (and possibly other NPEs) are sure to follow.
Almost half of the top twenty mHealth patent holders are not mHealth companies, or even medical device developers.
The incidence of mHealth patent infringement conflicts likely will increase as companies become more profitable and patent portfolios mature. To manage patent infringement risk, companies should consider the following options:
If you have never been sued, consider purchasing insurance;
Properly structure IP indemnification rights and obligations;
Build-out your patent portfolio—even ancillary improvements in the mHealth space may become critical if they are widely adopted by your competitors;
Streamline your internal invention disclosure, review, and patent filing processes, and where appropriate, use the USPTO’s Track 1 process to accelerate examination of key patent applications;
Monitor competitors’ patent filings and patent portfolios, and consider making pre-issuance submissions of prior art during prosecution of competitors’ patents;
Proactively cross-license patents with key IP owners to expand your freedom to operate—or utilize commodity components from major companies who will indemnify you for their use; and
If competitors are infringing, consider enforcing your patents before your competitors’ patent portfolios mature.
Topol confirmed to MobiHealthNews that he left West at the end of September after his three-year term on the board expired. But he also said that the institute’s shift away from exclusive focus on mobile and wireless technology—highlighted by West’s decision in August to drop “wireless” from its name—was a factor.
Speaking to MobiHealthNews Thursday after he keynoted the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) conference in Indian Wells, Calif., Topol said the West Health Institute wasn’t really interested in the specific research project he is spearheading, so he decided to do the work at Scripps.
“I’m still cheering for the West,” Topol said. “But I need to put my energy into the new program called Scripps Digital Medicine.” That is the name of the Scripps Translational Science Institute collaboration with the Qualcomm Foundation, he explained.
The $3.75 million will fund three years worth of clinical trials on wireless biosensor systems, rapid pharmacogenomic diagnostic tests and mobile apps and embedded sensors for tracking and predicting heart attacks, Type 1 diabetes and some types of cancer.
At CHIME, Topol continued to be bullish on mobile health, even as West broadens its scope to support all kinds of ideas that will help lower the cost of healthcare. “There isn’t a condition that mHealth will not help reduce the cost of,” the Scripps cardiologist said. Topol also talked about “this mHealth world we live in” as being part of what he sees as the greatest shake-up in the history of medicine.
On stage, Topol did his familiar demonstration of wireless gadgets, including the GE Vscan pocket ultrasound, the AliveCor iPhone ECG and a premarket Sotera Wireless ViSi monitor that showed several vital signs on his phone. “The smartphone is an incredibly powerful mini-computer, as you know,” he told the audience of hospital CIOs.
Topol then predicted that people soon will be checking their health as often as their email. “If that doesn’t engender cyberchondria, I don’t know what will,” he joked. He also said that health devices may spark a comeback of the humble wristwatch.
“Considering the number of pending and issued patents that relate to mHealth, it is likely that the mHealth industry will soon find itself in a patent thicket, in which many different patent owners hold blocking patents on widely-adopted, essential technologies. Patent thickets tend to increase the cost of doing business for established companies (money losing start-ups are rarely sued for patent infringement).”
San Diego-based senior care platform developer Independa has raised $1 million of a hoped for $4.3 million round in an effort to bankroll the deployment of its Angela software on LG Electronics’ Pro:Centric-enabled commercial televisions. The Independa deal with LG was first announced at the CES event at the beginning of the year. According to report in Telecare Aware, the new funding comes from a “variety of angels”.
Independa’s flagship offering is Angela, a tablet-based application that helps manage the lives and care of elderly patients who choose to stay in their homes rather than move to assisted living or nursing homes. According to Independa, Angela is a “social interaction solution tailor-made for the non-technical elderly.” The software features one-touch shortcuts to video chats, email, the Internet, Facebook, games and puzzles, and other interactive content. The interface offers large screen fonts, higher contrast and bright colors for those with poor eyesight. Angela can also remind users to take medications; keep medical and personal appointments; and remember birthdays and anniversaries.
The LG deal brings Independa’s Angela software to televisions at three senior care communities in San Diego, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh. Angela is pre-loaded on the televisions and is therefore television service provider agnostic.
Aetna recently announced that it had tapped DRX to develop and launch of a new tool for its infield Medicare sales agents and brokers: Mobile Field Enrollment for iPad. The app is a secure and easy-to-use alternative to paper applications and it will help agents enroll patients into an Aetna Medicare plan whether the device is connected or in offline.
DRX, which was formerly named Destination Rx, developed the app. DRX also offers various Medicare plan comparison tools, technology and data. While the app was built to help streamline the enrollment process for agents, it’s also built to be used by patients looking to enroll, too.
“The new tool lets brokers take in-office capabilities straight to their customers, wherever they are,” David Firestone, national head of distribution for Aetna Medicare stated in the announcement. “Best of all, it streamlines the process for agents, eliminates errors that can happen when paper applications are processed manually, and speeds up the application and approval process for the consumer.”
The iPad tool captures and submits enrollment information right from the device; works whether it is online or offline; detects input errors and missing information; automatically updates plan data within the app; tracks and reports on broker or agent’s enrollment activity right from the device; and includes security measures to protect PHI. Aetna claims the tool has decreased app processing time and cut down on costs. According to agents who tested the app, they estimated it could save them enough time to see 20 percent more clients each week.
“AirStrip has a responsibility to exercise its patent protection in ways that rapidly drive the evolution of mHealth in a uniform and positive direction,” AirStrip CEO Alan Portela said in a prepared statement. “AirStrip respects the intellectual property of others, and will vigorously defend our own. Such action is not taken lightly, but we feel it is in the best interest of providers, our partners, and ultimately, patients.”
“AirStrip is committed to working in partnership with health systems, medical technology vendors and application developers to more quickly evolve mobility as the foundation for clinical transformation,” AirStrip President and Chief Medical Officer Cameron Powell, MD, said in the prepared statement. “A more unified effort will ensure the evolution of best practices, reduce fragmentation, and drive the overall delivery of mobile applications that align with emerging standards. This will ultimately result in improved patient outcomes and better ensure patient safety.”
Like AirStrip, mVisum offers mobile applications that allows physicians to securely receive, view and respond to patient data recorded at the point of care right from their smartphones. One of mVisum offerings is its STEMI Alert System, which enables transmission of ECGs and other patient data directly to a physician’s smartphone to reduce the amount of time it takes for a diagnosis and to help lower door-to-balloon time. mVisum has inked key partnerships with companies that include Philips and Sprint. After months of demonstrating mVisum at industry events, Royal Philips Electronics formally announced an integration partnership with mVisum just last month. As of September mVisum’s STEMI Alert smartphone app now integrates with Philips TraceMasterVue and IntelliSpace ECG management systems.
Meaningful Uses for Mobile How mobile devices and apps will drive meaningful use watch now
For the past three years two topics have steadily grown in importance for healthcare providers. The first is meaningful use. The second: mobility.
Nearly half of the physicians in the United States use tablets, and more than 80 percent of them have smartphones. Every healthcare facility is working to achieve meaningful use.
While these two discussions have largely inhabited different orbits, that is set to change. Mobility will help healthcare providers achieve meaningful use, and in some cases meaningful use initiatives will drive mobile device deployments at healthcare facilities. How will these two mega trends shape each other in the years ahead?
The mobile conversation at the annual HIMSS event has grown steadily over the past few years — what will the industry focus on at this year’s event?
Three years ago the buzz was that an electronic medical records (EMR) vendor had developed a smartphone app. Two years ago the industry wondered whether consumer-grade tablets would really find their way into clinical settings. Last year an overwhelming number of vendors showed off smartphone and tablet apps — or promised that such apps were in the works. While many were terminal apps with frustrating user interfaces, it became clear that mobile was now the platform of choice for physicians.