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Dental Rival Says It Holds Patents on Laser Product

Technology: Irvine's Premier, which recently won federal approval for its system, insists no infringement has taken place as 'disgruntled competitor' alleges.

May 20, 1997|PATRICE APODACA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — A rival dental products company says that it holds patents for the type of laser technology that Irvine-based Premier Laser Systems Inc. recently got federal approval to begin selling.

American Dental Technologies Inc. in Southfield, Mich., said it holds the basic patents for the use of Erbium YAG lasers in the dental field. It also said that its experience shows the technology has "serious limitations" compared with other dental systems.

Premier, in a prepared statement, on Monday said it is confident that it does not infringe any valid patents held by "disgruntled competitor" American Dental, and would defend its position in court if necessary.

Premier rocketed to fame this month with the announcement that the Food and Drug Administration had cleared its dental laser system for use directly on teeth, to prepare cavities for filling. Previously, lasers were approved only for use on soft tissue such as gums.

The dental establishment heralded the news as revolutionary, saying it carried the prospect of a new era of painless dentistry.

Premier's stock closed Monday at $11.375 a share, up 23 cents in Nasdaq trading. The stock has fallen since reaching a high of $16.125 a share after the FDA announcement.

Bob Dalton, American Dental's manager of marketing, declined to say if the company planned to file a patent-infringement lawsuit against Premier, noting that patent infringement can only occur when a product is delivered to a customer.

Premier has said it hopes to have the first of its laser systems delivered within 90 days.

But Dalton challenged Premier's past statements about the effectiveness of the laser systems, which uses a particular wavelength to cut away tooth tissue.

American Dental says its research in Europe has shown that a competing air abrasive technology it also sells--which works like a tiny sand blaster to remove tooth decay--is faster, more precise, and less expensive. For that reason, he said, the company has not pursued FDA approval for its laser system in the United States.

"We do not feel that Erbium YAG laser technology is ready to be used on a routine basis in a dentist's office," he said.

Premier's chairman and chief executive, Colette Cozean, said that American Dental withdrew from the laser market because of its own adverse experience with its products a few years ago.

American Dental "is obviously upset with our success and may be concerned that [Premier's laser system] is likely to replace their own KCP air abrasive systems in many dental practices," she said.

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