Monday, November 21, 2011

Telemedicine Patents and Trademarks

Over the last three months, several ATA members have been contacted by lawyers representing a third party that was recently awarded a business-process patent regarding the use of telemedicine by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent reportedly covers a physician simultaneously evaluating two or more remotely-located patients using a video-conferencing system. The following information is being provided because of the current member interest in this subject.

Patents for telemedicine are not uncommon and will likely grow as the industry matures. Typically, letters sent out regarding a patent claim reference the claim, suggest that the recipient may be in violation of the patent, and some offer to issue a license for the recipient’s continued use of the product or process. There is usually a fee or royalty associated with the license.

Patents are issued by the government in exchange for public disclosure of the underlying invention in order to protect the original inventor’s rights. In many cases, a patent is entirely legitimate and involves an appropriate claim of infringement. In other cases, questions have been raised about the validity and applicability of the patent.

When dealing with patents and trademark “cease and desist” or infringement letters, you may want to seek a legal opinion to determine the legitimacy and applicability of the patent. For instance, the patent may be invalid because it was issued for a product or process that had been in existence for many years prior to the claim (known as “prior art”). There are also cases of “patent trolling,” where an individual or group seeks to gain financial benefit from a patent with no intention to use it. You will want to consult with legal counsel as to how to respond to such demands.

More information on patents is available on the following websites

Copyright vs. Trademark vs. Patent
http://www.lawmart.com/searches/difference.htm

General information concerning patents
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent
http://www.uspto.gov/patents/resources/general_info_concerning_patents.jsp

Patent Trolls
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_troll

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