mHealth Patents and Standards 9/12/12

Patents recently have piqued my interest because of the Apple patent suit victory over Samsung. The way I understand it, Apple won a $1 billion settlement based on Samsung copying features of iOS in Samsung’s version of Android. The Apple patents infringed upon were design patents for features like zoom, which Apple has been trying very hard to turn into the industry standards for touch/mobile navigation. I should add that Samsung is appealing the judgment.

The Apple/Samsung suit and news speculating about the fallout got me wondering about how patents could potentially work in the health IT arena, in particular with mobile health. I wrote a blurb about that last week. Before the post was published, I was contacted by AirStrip about its newly issued patent. I know very little about patents, so I spoke to Cameron Powell, MD, and Alan Portela at AirStrip. If you want to read the official press release, it’s here.

I read through the press release and part of the patent itself, which was filed backed in 2005 by Powell and Trey Moore, the founders of AirStrip. The patent is for a "System and method for real time viewing of critical patient data on mobile devices." The AirStrip patent is a methodology patent, a type of utility patent, and not a design patent. My understanding from Wikipedia and law sites I looked at is that a methodology patent protects the way something works and is used to accomplish a certain task, not the overall look and feel.

The AirStrip patent is for a tool that renders physiologic data from one to many sources in a way that users can view the big picture as well as zoom into specific details. It also includes claims about overlaying data and images onto the view, scrolling, viewing data in real time, and monitoring exchange of data from a management console.

The highlight of the patent for me is the listing of the Pocket PC as the example mobile device that holds so much potential for viewing real-time data. It’s funny how much technology has evolved over the last seven years from the time of this patent application. In reading, it I’m also more impressed with the vision Powell and Moore had for mobile data access well before most of us were making and talking about mobile apps.

I asked Powell to explain what the patent meant at a high level. "The patent protects how patient physiologic data from any source (facility/enterprise) is taken, conditioned, and re-rendered in a native and web-based HTML5 application," Powell. That certainly seems  broad and should be something that other mobile vendors are at least thinking about now.

So what does it all mean? I asked Powell and Portela that question and Portela told me, "It is connected to our passion. We want to improve healthcare and be the game changer." When asked what is next when it comes to the defense, licensing, or use of this patent, Portela told me, "We have a group of experts looking at how best to leverage this patent to assure we drive to our goal to transform healthcare in the best possible way".

There isn’t an answer yet as to exactly how this patent will protect AirStrip or how it will affect other mobile health vendors developing solutions to enable remote, mobile viewing of physiologic data by providers. As a methodology patent, can AirStrip use it to protect the experience of viewing a EKG, zooming into specific leads, accessing relevant additional data at the at point in time? I don’t know. It would be up to a judge to rule on any potential patent infringement issues.

It’s interesting to consider the potential of a company’s defining and protecting the experience of mobile patient data viewing. As we start to see more intuitive user experience design for providers, will a standard emerge and can it be protected, enabling a patent holder to require licensing of the its patents to mirror the user experience? If that does happen, I don’t want to be the health system that tries to convince doctors that they should use an alternative app because it is cheaper, even though it is not what a physician is accustomed to using.

TGphoto
Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

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