Medtronic CEO ambivalent about competing with Google, despite budding robotic surgery rivalry

Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak

Medtronic ($MDT) executive Dr. Stephen Oesterle once predicted that Alphabet ($GOOG) will be his company's "arch-competitor" in 20 years, saying "these guys have too much money, too much imagination. They're not constrained by business as usual."

But CEO Omar Ishrak struck a more ambivalent tone in a recent interview with the Minneapolis/St. Paul Journal.

"They bring a different capability compared to what we bring, whether that will create a competitor or partner is tough to say, and it could be both," he said. "If they're in healthcare and we're in healthcare, we'll be interacting in some way. But healthcare is a very big space, with efforts all the way from prevention to acute care to clinical trial development to consumer-level awareness. In that broad space, there's plenty of room for everybody, whether one is a competitor or not is very difficult to say."

One area whether the companies appear on a collision course is minimally invasive robotic surgery. But, proving Ishrak's point, Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) is entering the space via a partnership with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ).

The duo's joint venture, Verb Surgical, is one of the most ambitious challengers to market leader Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG), maker of the daVinci surgical robot, but won't be commercialized in the near term.

J&J's Gary Pruden

"Our solution not only aims to give surgeons a better procedural experience by improving comfort and patient proximity but deliver a superior surgical experience through greater access and precision with the ability to make more informed decisions through the entire procedure. We can see a future in which the surgeon is no longer isolated in the OR, but through our system, we'll be able to connect to critical data, imaging and diagnostic information; information that will help the surgeon make the best, most accurate decisions as and when they're needed," said Gary Pruden, J&J worldwide chairman of global surgery, during the company's most recent earnings call.

Medtronic's plan involves tying Covidien's interventional surgical devices to robotic equipment under development, with a launch hoped for later this year.

However, a partnership between Alphabet and Medtronic in other med tech arenas is certainly plausible, possibly setting up a rivalry with J&J in another space. That would make it difficult to say whether Alphabet is a competitor or not, as Ishrak suggested.

Medtronic already has alliances with other Silicon Valley or tech players, including Samsung and IBM Watson Health.

- read the article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Journal