Medical imaging- increasing innovation yet outdated equipment

If you are unfortunate enough to require an MRI or CT scan, you might reasonably expect that the equipment is state-of-the-art.  However, a recent report published by AXREM suggests that over half of CT and MRI scanners in the UK are more than five years old, with more than 10% of CT scanners, and greater than 20% of MRI scanners, being over ten years old.  What do industry experts think about this state of affairs, and what implications could it have for innovative companies in this sector?

According to a 2014 position paper published by the European Society of Radiology, “Equipment less than five years old is state-of-the-art technology.  Properly maintained equipment between six and ten years old is suitable for practice, but radiology departments should develop a strategy to replace them.  Machines over ten years old must be replaced”.  Based on this, COCIR (the European Trade Association representing the medical imaging, radiotherapy, health ICT and electro-medical industries) drafted a set of “Golden Rules”, which include that no more than 30% of equipment should be between six and ten years old, and no more than 10% should be more than ten years old.  From the AXREM study therefore, it seems that the UK MRI and CT equipment base fails these tests.

However, innovation in the medical imaging sector is ever-increasing, with improvements in technology allowing for improved imaging and reduced radiation dosages, benefiting both clinicians and patients.  Indeed, data from the European Patent Office shows that medical technology was the largest sector for patent applications in 2016, with Siemens, Samsung and Philips – all major players in the medical imaging field – populating the top six applicants across all sectors.  A search on the Patbase database indicates that applications in the medical imaging field have, in general, been steadily increasing over the last 10 years.  However, the AXREM report suggests that, for CT and MRI imaging in the UK at least, many patients are not benefitting from this innovation.

And it’s not just imaging quality and radiation dose that are improved with the latest technology – older machines may not be capable of withstanding potential cyber security issues which are becoming of greater concern as connectivity between devices improves (see related article on the “Internet of Medical Things” here).

So why this seeming disparity between innovation and old equipment?  The initial financial outlay for medical imaging equipment is hefty and provides a substantial barrier, especially within the NHS.  The “downtime” during replacement of equipment, together with the required training of staff to use new machines, may also play a role.

However, reports such as the one cited here, and the COCIR “Golden Rules” may necessitate the update of medical imaging equipment both in the immediate future and on an ongoing basis.  New business models such as managed equipment services, or the renting or leasing of machines may be put in place to ensure that the equipment being used is up to date, without the initial financial outlay and risk involved in traditional purchase models.

Medical imaging manufacturers would be advised to consider these changing business models when reviewing their patent portfolios, to ensure their innovations can be monetised smoothly.  In addition to the traditional copying-prevention purposes, other IP exploitation strategies such as licensing of rights may come into play if renting, leasing and other business models are used to ensure that the medical imaging equipment being used by clinicians is state-of-the-art.

If you would like to discuss how best to manage your IP to maximise the return on your investment in innovation, please get in touch with one of GJE’s specialist MedTech attorneys.