Who “Owns” Telehealth? American Well Sues Teladoc Over Patented Telehealth Intellectual Property

Last week, MedCity news reported that telehealth giant American Well filed a  lawsuit against Teladoc, claiming infringement of patented intellectual property rights on June 8th, in federal court in Boston. Dr. Roy Schoenberg , American Well co-founder,  reportedly has owned a far-reaching patent since 2009 for, in part:

accessing a data repository that stores information pertaining to medical service providers, including present availability of the medical service providers for participating in a consultation; receiving in a computer, indications that members of a pool of medical service providers have become presently available; receiving in the computer, a request from a consumer of services to consult with a medical service provider; identifying in the computer, an available member of the pool; and establishing a real-time communication channel between the consumer of services and the identified member of the pool.

The American Well lawsuit comes at a particularly sensitive time, with Teladoc recently having engaged the sixth legal battle with the Texas Medical Board as outlined in Federal Court Supports Teladoc in Ongoing Saga Against Texas Medical Board. At this particular time, Teladoc is also preparing for their an initial public offering. As the first and largest telemedicine service provider in the United States, Teladoc, American well and MDLive have all been on breathtaking trajectory. Along with MDLive,  These challenges come at a pivotal time, when many of the barriers that have impeded telehealth growth are lowering in a number of arenas. 

Reaction of Telehealth Community?

While we’ve all begun to expect patent lawsuits between technology giants such as Microsoft, Google, Samsung and Apple, these epoch battles had not not erupted in telehealth arenas. Rather, challenges have been and continue to be hard fought in research, education and legislative  arenas. This week though, the first telehealth gladiators stepped into the ring to fight an time-honored marketplace battle.The rapidly evolving area of software patents and intellectual property rights as applied to telehealth adds a 21st Century dimension to the week’s events.

Unlike other marketplace battles, repercussions of this lawsuit are sure to have a number of far-reaching repercussions because of the large numbers of start-ups now offering  online services as delivered by networks of telehealth providers, both medical and behavioral.  As can be expected, the worldwide telehealth community is starting to react. For example, Telehealth and Telecare Aware captured one point of view this week by stating:

This author is wondering who thought this was such a novel technology as to warrant a patent? What were they thinking? Having worked on developing unified messaging systems for a mobile phone operator at the turn of the century (now that’s a scary 15 years ago) I am just picking myself off the floor after reading this. Surely all these functions are no more than what is in every instant messaging program, dating back to 1990s? Replace the words “medical service provider” by “friends” or “contacts” and “consultation” by “chat” or “call” it seems to me you get … Skype and Face Time and more! If I am missing something I’ll be happy to be put right. 

Stayed tuned. More is likely to come soon.

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One comment on “Who “Owns” Telehealth? American Well Sues Teladoc Over Patented Telehealth Intellectual Property

  1. My primary focus is medication management. When we began filing telemedicine patents in 2006, there was essentially no telemedicine industry. Colleagues in 2006 said, pharma only wants to sell drugs, never will they sell patient services.
    Since 2006, with missionary work by yourself and many other providers, and businesses, government and inventors; telemedicine is now recgnized as a potentially valuable part of the solution to providing better outcomes. It helps greatly the technology sector and others have progressed enablers like the smart phone.
    The protection of intellectual property goes back to the earliest days of our legal systems. Patents provide value in the form of freedom to operate and protection for investments. This incents investment. If the patents are valid and inventors/owners of the IP offer licenses under reasonable terms, our legal allows inventors and their licensees/purchasers/assignees a legal monopoly.
    Legacy healthcare companies in the US and abroad have benefitted from protection for their IP. Telemedicine inventors should benefit and help build a better healthcare system.
    I believe MDDI will be publishing again on IP in the near future.

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