Patent Office rulings in surgery robot trial between Intuitive Surgical and Computer Motion

Santa Barbara, Sunnyvale 03 June 2002The United States Patent Office (PTO) has entered final judgment in Intuitive Surgical's favour in the interference proceeding involving Computer Motion's 5,855,583 patent. As a result of that judgment, subject to Computer Motion's right to appeal, Computer Motion has lost its rights to all 15 claims of the 583 patent, and Intuitive is entitled to claim for itself the invention concerning proportional movement of articulating robotic surgical instruments.


Also, on April 2, 2002, Intuitive Surgical previously announced the favourable judgment it received in the interference proceeding involving Computer Motion's former 5,878,193 patent on image-based control of robotic surgical instruments. In that interference, subject to Computer Motion's right to appeal, Computer Motion lost all of its rights to the claimed inventions of the 193 patent.

In turn, Computer Motion asserted that the da Vinci Surgical System, made by Intuitive Surgical, is infringing on at least eight patents owned by Computer Motion, encompassing approximately 47 claims. In addition, the adverse rulings from the Patent Office on the two Computer Motion patents 5,855,583 and 5,878,193 will be appealed.

Before entering final judgment against Computer Motion in this second interference, the Patent Office in its March 30th decisions granted Computer Motion one last opportunity to address Intuitive Surgical's challenges to its 583 patent. According to the Patent Office, Computer Motion fell short of meeting its burdens.

These interference processes aim at establishinging rightful ownership to the pertinent claims embodied in the ,583 and ,193 patents, according to Computer Motion. This will ultimately be decided in the appeals process. Patents ,583 and ,193 will remain issued to Computer Motion throughout this appeal process. It is only when, as, and if Intuitive Surgical prevails in the appeals process that they would be entitled to the disputed claims.

No party can initiate a patent infringement action against another party without an issued patent. Computer Motion remains confident that the company will prevail and retain the claims in these two patents.

In the third interference involving Computer Motion's 5,907,664 patent, the Patent Office denied Intuitive Surgical's request for reconsideration and so entered final judgment against the company, concluding that Computer Motion is entitled to keep its 664 patent. The Patent Office decided not to rule on whether the 664 patent is actually valid, however, leaving that issue unresolved.

"While we obviously would have liked to win all three interferences, we now have in hand what we believe we need to address Computer Motion's remaining patents in the California Court", explained David Shaw, Intuitive's Vice President, Legal Affairs and Corporate Counsel. "In addition, since we believe that the surviving 664 patent does not pertain to our da Vinci Surgical System technology, we already have on file in the California Court a motion for summary judgment of noninfringement of that patent", Mr. Shaw added.

Computer Motion's Los Angeles, California suit against Intuitive Surgical, initiated over two years ago, is now progressing. A jury trial date has been set for next spring and Computer Motion looks forward to a positive resolution of this significant and material matter in the second half of 2003.

"We strongly disagree with Intuitive Surgical's recent public statements regarding the ramifications of the interference rulings upon our suit in the Los Angeles, California case. Patent infringement is illegal. We maintain that Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci Surgical System infringes on many claims embodied in our patents that are before the California court. We feel that we will ultimately prevail on our claims related to Intuitive Surgical's infringement. It is also important to realise that the violation of one claim within one patent is sufficient to prove our point, win our Los Angeles, California court case, and be awarded damages", stated Bob Duggan, Chairman and CEO of Computer Motion.

First cleared by the FDA in 1997 for assisting surgery and in July 2000 for performing surgery, the da Vinci Surgical system consists of a surgeon's console, a patient-side cart, a high performance 3D vision system and Intuitive Surgical's proprietary EndoWrist articulating instruments. The da Vinci Surgical System seamlessly translates the surgeon's natural hand and wrist movements on instrument controls at the console into corresponding micro-movements of instruments positioned inside the patient through small puncture incisions, or ports.

Computer Motion's products include the ZEUS Robotic Surgical System with MicroWrist for minimally invasive surgery; the HERMES Control Center, a centralised system which enables the surgeon to voice control a network of "smart" medical devices; and the AESOP Robotic Endoscope Positioner.

The company's newest product, the SOCRATES Telecollaboration System, is the first device in the newly created FDA category of Robotic Telemedicine Devices, and is designed to facilitate surgeon collaboration using video and audio conferencing, shared control of the endoscopic camera, and video annotation on the surgical image in the operating room. The company's products are CE-Marked for commercial sale in the European Community.

More information on the ongoing juridical conflict between the two surgery robot competitors is available in the VMW July 2000 article Computer Motion to start patent infringement war on medical robotics against Intuitive Surgical.

Leslie Versweyveld

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