With the vast amount of information generated by new medical technologies, IP legal specialist Elizabeth Ward looks at the often complex issue of who owns the information and how to be proactive about protecting your ideas
One of the main drivers of change in the global healthcare industry for 2016 is the clever use of data to monitor such things as disease trends and patient outcomes. Take wearables, for example. A whole variety of devices are available for monitoring heart rate, asthma and diabetes, and for tracking sleep. These devices currently feed back information to doctors on a real-time basis, ensuring that abnormal changes can be readily detected and acted on.
However, the real value created here is the vast amount of data these devices yield. And therein lies the conundrum – who owns that information and what are they going to do with it?
Data is one of the grey areas of intellectual property. In fact, patients usually own their own data and medical records. However, consolidated and anonymised compiled information often belongs to the NHS; such data is of huge value and can be used to model all aspects of patient care.
It is an interesting area and highlights one of the healthcare industries’ main problems, namely, identifying the intangible assets in a company and who owns them. Where internal research teams create technology and brands, then the company will own all the intellectual property created by its employees. However, increasing reliance on subcontractors or technology that is bought or ‘licensed’ in can create a problem.
Software in medical devices is a case in point. It is often commissioned in and so unless express provisions over the assignment of the software or a formal licence are put in place, problems can arise.
The same applies when two or more companies work together to improve a device. It is always important to set out contractually who owns the improvements and who does what with the resulting IP. Disputes often arise over ‘improvements’, and it pays to anticipate the situation before people fall out.
As the biggest improvements in healthcare now rely on treatments such as combination therapies, or the increasing use of data and software to improve existing technology, the opportunities for problems to arise are increasing. So what can a company do to be proactive in this area and avoid future healthcare IP problems? Here are a few tips.
With contractual situations, it is all about anticipating the problems before they arise. An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. Curing companies’ healthcare IP issues can be very costly indeed.
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