Are digital health patents beginning to shape the market?

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsWith the latest news this week that another major player in mobile health has won what appears to be an important patent, it seemed like a good time as any to review and follow-up on recent patent happenings.

Perhaps the biggest IP story that we've been following over the course of the year has been Robert Bosch Healthcare's patent infringement lawsuit against three other home health monitoring companies: ExpressMD, MedApps, and Waldo Health. In late July Bosch filed an additional and apparently similar lawsuit against Cardiocom, based on its Health Buddy patent portfolio.

In February when it filed the first three lawsuits, a spokesperson for Bosch explained to MobiHealthNews:

“We feel it is important to demonstrate that IP is important, and not just to our company. Bosch Healthcare Systems, like most high-tech companies, values its intellectual property as an essential asset of its business... Bosch is open to working with those companies that are interested in securing this technology through a licensing agreement, and we are in discussion with numerous companies in this regard.”

Within two months Waldo Health settled with Bosch and became one of the first companies to license its technologies. Since then -- late April 2012 -- Waldo Health has been quiet.

In early summer MobiHealthNews exclusively reported that Alere had acquired MedApps, which is now a business unit called Alere Connect. Alere has a longstanding IP agreement with Bosch based on a settlement the two companies came to years ago. A recent filing in the Bosch-MedApps suit notes that "Alere has a license for each of the patents-in-suit." As a part of Alere, MedApps issues with Bosch's IP may be over, but the lawsuit has not yet settled. Following news of Alere's acquisition of MedApps, the two companies filed a motion to go to mediation by mid-October.

MobiHealthNews reported last week that Authentidate, the parent company of ExpressMD, was forced to reverse-split of its stock last week to avoid delisting from the Nasdaq Capital Market. Authentidate provides remote monitoring technology to several major provider organizations, including the Premier hospital alliance and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is unclear, of course, what role, if any, the Bosch lawsuit played a role in the company's recent financial woes.

The other big lawsuit that dropped earlier this year was BodyMedia's suit against Basis Science, but since Basis sent in its official response to the suit, no new court filings have appeared. In May longtime wearable fitness device company BodyMedia formally served Basis Science, a startup working to bring its wearable tracking device to market, with a lawsuit that claims Basis’ offering infringes on six patents held by BodyMedia in more than 100 ways. Within days Basis filed its response and counterclaims, as we reported in May: Basis believed the timing of the lawsuit was curious and an attempt to hinder its product’s launch, that the patents BodyMedia claims it infringes will not hold up in court, and that while it believes its device does not infringe on those patents it doesn’t believe BodyMedia can know that anyway since its product has not yet launched.

It is now almost four months later and Basis still hasn't launched its health and fitness tracking device. The case hasn't made any apparent progress yet either.

As the review above makes clear, some of the oldest companies working in digital health are bringing about suits to defend their patents. What follows from AirStrip's announcement this week that it has secured a patent for its technology which "mobilizes physiologic data to smartphones, tablets and other devices" remains to be seen, of course. Still, no one can argue that patent litigation in digital health is ramping up, and it's not in any one segment. These three companies also represent three of the biggest digital health markets today: Home-based care and monitoring, in-patient care and monitoring, and fitness and wellbeing.