Covidien defeats J&J/Ethicon in surgical tool patent battle

How relentless can medical device industry patent lawsuits become? Consider Covidien's ($COV) battle against J&J ($JNJ)/Ethicon over its Harmonic line of ultrasonic surgical devices and tools. Covidien sued all the way back in 2004, and now a federal court has sided with the device giant, ordering its defeated rival to fork over $176.5 million.

Not surprisingly, Covidien, as victor, announced the patent win, which took place in U.S. District Court in New Haven. The federal court found that Ethicon Endosurgery's Harmonic ultrasonic surgical devices violated three Covidien patents relating to surgical tools focused on enabling ultrasonic cutting and coagulation.

The surgical tool business is plenty competitive, and patent battles are commonplace as rivals seek to protect any edge they perceive having. According to the Hartford Courant, ultrasonic cutting and coagulation surgical tools have a particular advantage in the marketplace, because they cauterize incisions at temperatures lower than other competing products that rely on heat or lasers.

Covidien itself notes that J&J/Ethicon could appeal the dollar amount, which was calculated based on 8% royalties for product sales over a certain period, including interest prior to the judgment.

A Covidien spokesperson told the Hartford Courant that the company was "just pleased to see the court has recognized … the value of our intellectual property." Meanwhile, an Ethicon spokesperson told Reuters, as cited by the newspaper, that executives are figuring out what to do next, including options for possible appeal.

- here's the Covidien announcement
- read the Hartford Courant's take

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