Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Like most areas of technology, the neurotech industry has had its share of legal battles. Most of these have involved intellectual property disputes and the resolution of those cases is often long and arduous with complicated settlements and licensing agreements.

One of the most significant neurotech patent lawsuits was between the Alfred Mann Foundation and Cochlear Ltd., which was filed in 2007. That case was first dismissed, then reinstated in AMF’s favor in 2010. A jury awarded AMF $131 million in 2014, but that decision was reversed in 2015 and a new trial was ordered. In 2016, a federal appeals court overturned that decision and in 2018 the damages amount was doubled to $268 million after a finding of willful infringement by Cochlear. The judgement was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020 and Cochlear paid an additional $75 million in attorney’s fees.

More recently, a series of lawsuits between Nevro and Boston Scientific delved into ownership of spinal cord stimulation technology and also frequency ranges for SCS devices. In 2020, the two firms settled the high-frequency dispute with the understanding that BSC wouldn’t operate above 1.5 kHz. In 2021, a jury awarded BSC $20 million from Nevro for infringing SCS lead manufacturing technology. Last month, Nevro announced that BSC would pay $85 million to settle all remaining litigation, with BSC getting a license for SCS below 1.5 kHz.

A major case still pending involves tined leads used in sacral nerve stimulation. Medtronic sued Axonics in 2019 and Axonics responded by challenging the validity of its patents, which so far has resulted in a split decision. The resolution of that suit could be a long way off.

The most recent neurotech-related lawsuit does not involve intellectual property, but rather alleged misconduct and issues of character. In 2019, Stimwave’s board voted to remove founder Laura Tyler-Perryman as CEO and later sued her to recover legal fees associated with a Department of Justice investigation into illegal coding claims. Aside from the DoJ investigations, both civil and criminal, the parties are involved in a host of other suits that are certain to be made more complicated by Stimwave’s recent bankruptcy filing [NBR Jun 22 p3]. Last month, Perryman said she would file a defamation, slander, and libel lawsuit against Stimwave executives, lender Kennedy Lewis, and board members. She alleges that they fabricated allegations of misconduct in order to enable Kennedy Lewis to take control of the company and devalue its assets.

While patent infringement suits are to be expected in almost any industry, the battles involving personal integrity such as the Stimwave matter are particularly harmful to the industry. Much better that disagreements should be decided by what’s best for patients, rather than people’s egos and bank accounts. But that’s probably wishful thinking.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher


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