Industries Changing as a Result of the Pandemic and the Role of IP – Case study: Healthcare

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The following case study has been taken from the “Implications of Covid-19 on SMEs – reassessing the role of IP in multiple sectors and industries” report written by Naomi Korn Associates and Mathys & Squire Consulting, November 2021. This case study reviews the impact on SMEs (small, medium enterprises) of the COVID-19 pandemic since its appearance in early 2020 through the first quarter of 2021. It focuses on the industries most affected by the crisis and whether intellectual property (IP) and IP management may have helped mitigate its impact through adaptation and change.

Sector overview

While many industries and sectors have seen consumer demand plummet and have been faced with furloughing and layoffs, the wider healthcare and medical sectors have faced extremely high demand for services. Requirements for social distancing and minimising contact have seen the rise of new innovations surrounding robotics and telehealth solutions. Transformative developments using blockchain technology, allowing for exchange of information across products, services and medical practitioners have also experienced an increase in innovation. This is evident thanks to the announcement of Healthcare Innovator Philips that it is investing in a pivot towards telehealth. In the post-COVID-19 world, a permissioned and private blockchain will have a pivotal role in the digitisation of the healthcare industry and creation of new digital health solutions.

Analysis

While telehealth technologies were already present, it has been estimated that the level of telehealth visits has increased by 50-175 times the pre-COVID-19 levels with many patients now viewing the technology favourably. Many institutions have retrained their staff to provide innovative telehealth services, including virtual patient waiting rooms, robotics, connections to peripheral devices for remote diagnostics, cloud based clinical trials and electronic prescriptions services. This represents a change in the business model used in the sector, with up to 76% of surveyed patients indicating that they would use telehealth technology moving forward.  For example, the Singapore-based startup Homage, matches families and caregivers, providing home visits, telehealth consultations and medications delivery, through an integrated platform accessible by patients, medical staff, and other care providers, and keeping medical information, and prescriptions all in one healthcare management tool. The US company Radiologex offers a blockchain-based healthcare ecosystem, called R-DEE – a dedicated industry product for global healthcare that enables easy and secure communication and collaboration for all users.

The present pandemic has catalysed interest in contact-free continuous monitoring (CFCM) devices and approaches, such as the virus screening platform Clearstep, which allows patients a user-friendly way to check their symptoms, exposure and risk levels, and receive tailored advice and routes for potential care.  Such approaches allow for a limitation of physical contact, reduction in in-person contact and the need for medical staff to gown up. It is estimated that 5% of COVID-19 patients may require ICU treatment, and with an ever-increasing infection rate, and coping with a reduced workforce, telehealth technologies offer medical staff a route to treat those infected, while reducing the chance of further transmission or quarantine requirements. The Israeli company Earlysense has developed CFCM technology for continuous patient monitoring, including heart rate, respiratory rate and motion monitoring, as well as dashboards for overview of activity per patient or even per facility. We note that in February 2021 this technology was acquired by US-based technology company Hillrom, with the company licensing the technology back to EarlySense who will continue to make new developments, including next-generation AI based sensing technologies for remote patient care.

Tele-ICU technology has enabled remote consultations, thereby taking off some of the pressures associated with limited staff and PPE shortages. Research has shown that such systems may result in a reduction in mortality rates by 15%-60% and a significant reduction in the length of hospital stays[1]. This advantage continues beyond this point with telehealth allowing continued monitoring of recovered COVID-19 patients once they have left medical facilities. This seismic impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare sector has resulted in a telemedicine market worth more than $49.9 billion, expected to increase by a CAGR of 40.4%, reaching a value of $194 billion in 2023. The United States represents the largest market, followed by Asia Pacific and Europe.

In this sector, numerous companies, medical facilities, and inventors have developed novel solutions. Prior to the pandemic, a US-based company had developed a cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant platform called Vidyo to conduct patient consultations and to communicate between physicians and hospitals. However, with the arrival of COVID-19 several healthcare providers in the US found that with additional hardware, this already approved system could be easily rolled out across the hospital. French company Tessan has developed a connected telemedicine cabin, which has been already installed in several pharmacies in France. These cabins are fitted with several medical devices and remotely connected to doctors, who can act based on the output when required, without the need for the patient to enter the hospital. The pandemic has also sparked the development of Iceland’s SidekickHealth, a gamified digital therapeutics platform combining clinical validation with gamification, behavioural economics, and AI to deliver a personalised patient experience. Companies have also stepped up to offer royalty free licensing of patented technologies to healthcare providers through the Open Covid Pledge to aid in the fight against COVID -19. This includes patents relating to a variety of technologies including network-based healthcare information systems from AT&T, Wi-Fi enabled open-clinics from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, disease diagnostics technologies from Fujitsu, and protein detection technologies from Sandia.

A recent lawsuit filed by Teladoc Health against American Well over infringement of robotics and real time connection patents is a testament to the increase in patent litigation amongst telehealth companies and providers. It also highlights the importance of securing suitable protection of intellectual property assets from the beginning, especially when regulations are being relaxed to ease provision of care for patients.

The technical innovations used to provide telehealth services are rich in data, with the AI models they contain being trained on data generated by sensors, apps, and patient interactions. One of the main points of concern in the use of these technologies relates to data protection and its secure storage, as well as many innovations being developed in their own right just to deal with these issues. Telehealth solutions and the related data provide a wide range of intellectual property assets, which should be suitably protected.

A well-known telehealth platform may be recognised through a known trade mark or logo, while the software behind the platform may be copyright or in some cases patent protected. Algorithms behind a certain telehealth software are likely to be protected as trade secrets, whilst user interfaces or layouts may be protected by design rights. In all cases, such telehealth platforms represent a mix of intangible assets, which must be carefully managed by any business operating in this sector. Furthermore, the move towards telehealth and blockchain enabled systems, represents the formation of new business models, leaving existing players needing to strategically pivot their strategies to focus on more innovative opportunities[2]. 


[1] Naik, Gupta, Singh, Soni, & Puri, 2020, pp. Real-Time Smart Patient Monitoring and Assessment Amid COVID-19 Pandemic – an Alternative Approach to Remote Monitoring

[2] Morgan, Anokhin, Ofstein, & Friske, 2020, p. SME response to major exogenous shocks: The bright and dark sides of business model pivoting

Naomi Korn Associates is one of the UK’s specialists in copyright, data protection and licensing support services.

Mathys & Squire Consulting is an intellectual property consulting team that can support all businesses in capitalising intangible assets.

Naomi Korn Associates and Mathys & Squire Consulting are working in partnership across multiple industries to provide innovative consultancy IP support services.