Attempting to protect its niche in a burgeoning market, Trimedyne Inc. has filed a patent-infringement suit against a Salt Lake City company.
The federal lawsuit, filed in Salt Lake City, alleges that HGM Medical Laser Systems Inc. has copied a key element of Trimedyne's laser catheter that is used to treat arteriosclerosis.
The patent in question protects the metal tip of a catheter that is heated by a laser to vaporize fatty deposits and clots from blood vessels in legs.
"This is the base of our technology, and we must protect it," Howard Cooper, Trimedyne's president and chief executive officer, said.
However, Charles O'Brien, corporate vice president of HGM, denied the patent-infringement charge, contending that HGM holds its own patent on the catheter tip used in its product. He further claims that the objective of Trimedyne's lawsuit is to prevent a competitor from introducing a better product.
In March, 1987, Trimedyne became the first company to obtain permission from the Food and Drug Administration to sell a laser catheter to perform the artery-opening procedure known as angioplasty. Trimedyne had the only laser-angioplasty probe in commercial use until just a few months ago when a Minneapolis firm received FDA permission to market another kind of laser-angioplasty system.
Trimedyne's marketing approval from the FDA, which culminated more than 6 years of research and development, launched the company on the road to impressive financial success. In its last fiscal year, ended Sept. 30, it achieved net earnings of $5.3 million on sales of $31 million.
HGM's laser-angioplasty catheter is in the testing stage. O'Brien said he expects his company to obtain FDA approval to sell the device later this year.
"(Our) patent incorporates technology significantly beyond that of (other companies) in the industry," he said. As one example, he said that the HGM tip has a temperature-control device that is lacking in the Trimedyne model.
But Richard Demmer, Trimedyne's executive vice president, said: "There have been trade shows in which we have both participated, and we have seen their product openly displayed that we believe infringes on our patent."
Demmer said Trimedyne is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent HGM from selling its new product to hospitals and surgeons for clinical tests and a permanent injunction to prevent sales after the product is approved by FDA.
Edward Mutsch, a health industry analyst with Piper, Jaffray & Hopwood, a Minneapolis-based investment banking firm, said he has noticed a recent surge of patent litigation in the angioplasty business, which he attributes to a heating up of competition in a young industry.
He said angioplasty currently commands a $400-million-a-year market. He said he expects that to expand to over $1 billion in 3 to 4 years.