Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Medical Records Patents Valid and Infringed

Bessette c. Québec (Procureure générale du Québec) 2019 CF 393 LeBlanc J
2,233,794 / 2,329,598 / Distributed network system for management of medical records

This very long decision, holding M Bessette’s 794 and 598 patents to be infringed and most of the key claims to be valid, turned largely on the evidence. M Bessette was an emergency physician at a Montreal hospital in the 1990s. Patient information was held in multiple locations and even when found, the crucial information was often buried in detail. He conceived of a system which enable medical staff to quickly access relevant medical information. Rather than collecting all the information in one place, the system used a data structure with pointers to the remote location for retrieval on demand [4], [60]-[65]. The 794 patent related to a distributed network system for accessing medical records. The 598 patent was an improvement which enabled automatic “push” updating of the information [5].

While a system of this type would doubtless have been developed eventually as a result of increasing pervasiveness of distributed internet based database systems, M Bessette’s thinking was ahead of its time – exactly how far ahead is a matter for the obviousness discussion. In any event, it was certainly a very good idea. In 1998 M Bessette set out to commercialize his invention. He initially attracted considerable interest from a number of parties, including private sector technology firms, and the Quebec government, which would have had to implement the system in the Quebec hospital system. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Quebec government ultimately lost interest by about 2000 [66]-[77]. Several years later, in around 2005, the Quebec government again decided that an internet based medical records system was a good idea. After several years of development, the accused infringing system, the Dossier Santé Québec [DSQ], was implemented in 2013 [2], [253]-[257]. There seems to be an interesting business school case study here regarding government nimbleness in innovation, but that is not really relevant to the patent case.

So far as infringement is concerned, there was the usual detailed construction of the terms of the claims (all of which were agreed to be essential [108], [242]). But the 794 patent was quite broad, and while the DSQ system had a number of features not disclosed by the 794 patent, the question, of course, is not whether the patent discloses all of the features of the allegedly infringing system, but the opposite, whether the defendant’s system incorporates all the essential features of the patented system [295], [331]. At the end of the day, Claims 1 to 8 of the 794 patent were infringed [320], as were many of the claims of the 598 patent.

The main invalidity attack on the 794 patent was based on anticipation. While various prior publications had disclosed aspects of the patented inventions, no single publication disclosed everything. One key difference was that the invention used pointers, and particularly a two-component pointer [412], [425], [427].

Given the rapid development of internet based data systems, a key question related to the 794 patent in particular would seem to be whether it was truly an inventive technical advance, or whether M Bessette was simply the first to see an opportunity which was obvious in light of the rapidly advancing state of the art. This situation calls to mind the infamous Selden automobile patent, which essentially claimed the automobile. It is now generally considered to have been a paradigmatic example of a bad patent, as the true advance in the basic automobile was not the concept of putting an engine on a cart, but rather the development of a light enough engine. Now, all inventions are obvious once the state of the art has advanced far enough, and it is entirely possible that M Bessette was sufficiently visionary that his conception would have been inventive at the relevant time. It is also possible that his particular implementation, using pointers, was inventive. But one way or the other, this would seem to be the key question. Curiously, the expert for the defendants barely touched on this issue, with a few conclusory statements rather than a detailed analysis [437]. The expert for the plaintiff therefore was instructed not to address the issue either [438]. Consequently, LeBlanc J was left to decide the issue of obviousness largely without the benefit of expert evidence on this factually driven inquiry [439]. Remarking that the obviousness argument “repose sur une preuve largement déficiente” [443], he rejected the attack, partly on the basis of the burden [441], and partly on what evidence was available [442].

The 598 patent was attacked for obviousness, insufficiency and overbreadth [448]. The key point on obviousness was the use of “push” notifications, and those claims which omitted this feature were held to be obvious [488], while the attack was otherwise rejected. The overbreadth and insufficiency arguments were also rejected on the facts.

The trial was bifurcated and damages was not addressed.

No comments:

Post a Comment