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U of Nebraska Sues Siemens Healthcare for Allegedly Infringing Lab Automation Patents

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This article was originally published on April 28.

The University of Nebraska and UNeMed, the technology-transfer organization for the UN Medical Center, have sued Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics for allegedly infringing patents related to clinical laboratory automation technology, according to court documents published last week.

The suit revolves around two patents owned by UNeMed and exclusively licensed to Abbot Laboratories, though Abbott is not listed as a co-plaintiff on the complaint.

According to the complaint, filed last week in the US District Court for the District of Nebraska, UN owns US Patent Nos. 5,614,415 and 5,985,670, both of which are entitled "Method for automatic testing of laboratory specimens."

The sole inventor named on both patents is Rodney Markin, professor of pathology and microbiology and senior associate dean for clinical affairs at UNMC, and a well-known pioneer in laboratory automation, according to several sources.

The '415 patent, issued in March 1997, and the '670 patent, issued in Nov. 1999, have been exclusively licensed by UN to UNeMed, which in turn has granted an exclusive sublicense to Abbot Laboratories, according to the complaint.

The date of UNeMed's licensing agreement with Abbott is unclear. It is also unclear whether the patents form the basis of a specific Abbott laboratory-automation product. A spokesperson for Abbott wrote in an e-mail to BTW that the company is not a party to this suit and as such, would not comment.

However, in its compliant, UNeMed said that it has the authority to initiate legal action against Siemens pursuant to its sublicense with Abbott.

The complaint alleges that prior to 2005, Deerfield, Ill.-based medical diagnostics firm Dade Behring began selling a device and system for testing medical samples under the name StreamLab Analytical Workcell, "the manufacture, offer for sale, sale, and use of which infringes" the '415 and '670 patents.

The suit also claims that in 2005, at an unspecified trade show in Orlando, Fla., Markin met with several employees of Dade Behring and informed them that StreamLab was infringing the patents in suit.

Dade Behring continued to sell StreamLab, and in July 2007, Siemens Healthcare's parent company, Siemens AG, acquired Dade Behring for $7 billion in an effort to increase its play in the medical diagnostics space.

The suit alleges that Siemens Healthcare has since continued to market and sell StreamLab, and that Abbott Laboratories informed Siemens Healthcare that sale of the instrument infringes the patents in suit.

"By its use, offer to sell, and sale of StreamLab in the United States, Siemens Healthcare is directly infringing and actively inducing infringement of the patents in suit," the complaint alleges. UNeMed and UN also claim that the infringement is willful and that they have and will continue to suffer irreparable harm and damages unless the alleged infringement is enjoined by the court.

UNeMed and UN said they are seeking damages "sufficient to compensate them for the infringement of each of the patents in suit by Siemens Healthcare and its predecessor, Dade-Behring;" and treble damages based on the allegation that the infringement has been willful.

It is unclear what size stake UNeMed might have in the proceedings. Sales figures for StreamLab in the US are unavailable; and spokespeople from both UNeMed and Siemens wrote in an e-mail to BTW that it was the policy of their respective organizations not to comment on ongoing litigation.

According to Siemens' website, StreamLab links several of the company's Dimension laboratory testing systems via a single interface and allows fully automated integrated testing of routine and specialty chemistries, immunoassays, cardiacs, STATs, therapeutic drugs, drugs of abuse, endocrinology, and user-defined channels.

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