A business overture was answered with a lawsuit, which in turn incited a three-way patent dispute for healthcare IT systems targeting intensive-care units that have been developed by Cerner Corp., Visicu and iMDsoft.
In an apparent pre-emptive strike, Cerner filed suit in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 12, alleging Visicu is overstating its patent rights and wrongfully communicating with Cerner customers.
"We asked for injunctive relief for them to stop interfering with our clients and misrepresenting their patent," says Dan Devers, a patent lawyer at Cerner. "And we're asking for a determination that their patent is unenforceable."
Visicu is a pioneer in the combination of video, electronic and computerized patient-monitoring systems to enable intensivists at remote locations to provide round-the-clock surveillance of ICU patients from multiple locations.
Devers says Visicu sent letters to Cerner Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Neal Patterson, members of Cerner's board and at least two Cerner customers warning them of possible infringement by Cerner of Visicu's patent. Filed with Cerner's complaint, Devers says, is a letter from Visicu Chairman and CEO Frank Sample to LifeBridge Health and another letter from Visicu attorney Jon Roberts to Borgess Health Alliance, warning both Cerner prospects that Visicu "aggressively pursues infringers" of its patent.
According to Devers, the court filing also includes a Nov. 9 letter from Sample reminding Patterson of Cerner's "previously expressed ... interest in licensing Visicu technology," and that while no deal ensued then, "Visicu remains interested." Sample asked Patterson for "the courtesy of a response one way or another." Cerner sued three days later.
To further muddle the situation, iMDsoft posted on its Web site Dec. 6 the claim that it was "the rightful owner of technology used in remote intensive-care unit monitoring systems" by virtue of a patent application it made in 1996.
In its statement, iMDsoft said Visicu had contacted iMDsoft's customers, claiming full rights to all remote ICU technology and offering to help those medical facilities remove their iMDsoft systems. The company sent similar letters to potential iMDsoft customers as well.