Patent dispute hits intensive care IT

Two major US IT health care companies are embroiled in court action about a patent dispute.

Two major US IT health care companies are embroiled in court action about a patent dispute.

Healthcare-IT giant Cerner is asking a federal judge to declare that its technology to facilitate remote monitoring of intensive-care patients does not infringe on a patent recently awarded to supplier Visicu.

On 12 October Visicu was granted a patent for remote monitoring of patients in intensive and critical care. Visicu founders, doctors Brian Rosenfeld and Michael Breslow, both intensive care specialists from Johns Hopkins University, invented the technology.

Visicu sells the technology as part of a system called eICU, a name it has trademarked. The eICU is in place or contracted for installation at 25 health systems nationwide, the company said.

The same day the patent was awarded, an attorney for Visicu sent a letter to Cerner chairman and chief executive Neal Patterson, warning of possible patent infringement because Cerner also offers remote ICU management systems.

Within days, Visicu sent similar letters to other Cerner board members.

Cerner patent layer Dan Devers said the company is implementing its own ICU management system at several customer sites and that Cerner's technology does not infringe on the Visicu patent.

"Their letters do not accurately describe the scope of their patents," he said. "We believe that the patent is unenforceable and invalid."

Cerner claims that the eICU relies on a rules engine developed 10 years ago by doctor M Michael Shabot, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The company argued that Visicu intentionally withheld information from the US Patent and Trademark Office about the Cedars technology.

Cerner said that Breslow and Rosenfeld first held a teleconference with Shabot in March 2000. Visicu filed its patent application in November 1999.

Devers said that anything that happened before the awarding of the patent last month, such as Patterson's meetings with Visicu officials or Visicu conversations with Cedars-Sinai, are "irrelevant" to this patent.

Visicu president and chief executive Frank Sample said that he does not understand why Cerner would seek a judgment.

"We're obviously the innovators in the market," Sample said, adding that Visicu had spent large amounts of money and countless hours of "sweat equity" developing its eICU product. "We feel very strongly about the strength of our patent," he added.

Neil Versel writes for Health IT World

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