Jason Voiovich, VP, Marketing, Analytics & Research Services, Logic PD
*This is part 1 of a two-part series on the impact of traditional medical devices finding their way to home use. In this post, Jason will introduce the topic and discuss implications for the four types of intellectual property. In the next post, he will explore in more depth the evolving branding and trademark landscape for these devices.
We’ve had medical devices in our homes for many years.
From portable electronics (ear thermometers) to simple diagnostics (pregnancy hormone tests), the general American public is no stranger to med-tech. For those with chronic medical conditions, blood glucose meters and CPAP machines are a common sight in the home.
But all of those devices are just the rain before the flood.
As medical care decentralizes, the average person is being asked to take control of more and more of his or her own healthcare. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and other High-Deductible Health Plans are partly to blame, but also important is the advancement in connectivity technology for these devices. Linking these diagnostic and therapeutic devices to the Internet means many more tests and treatments can be conducted in the comfort of your own home, yet still under the watch of a trained nurse or physician. Patients generally enjoy more control over their care experience, and it often lowers costs to boot.
Common examples coming to a CVS shelf near you include: Ultrasonic skin treatments, cardiac diagnostics, screening for common conditions (strep throat, ear infections, etc.), and human waste analysis – just to name a few. (I won’t go into detail on the last one. Suffice to say, it involves a “smart toilet”).
At Logic PD, our analysis of the mid-tier med-tech market shows a significant shift toward devices designed for use by individuals without as much training as your average clinician, with as many as 30% of those companies designing devices that have the potential to be used in a home setting. In other words, it’s really coming. Soon.
The implications are simple, but profound:
- Usability: The less training the user has, the easier the devices need to be to use. Those devices designed for hospital-trained clinicians will likely need an overhaul.
- Durability and reliability: If you’ve ever had kids, you understand this one.
- Mobility: These devices tend to be smaller and more portable, meaning they often require battery power. Smaller size and the need for lots of battery power are not friends.
- Connectivity: The true potential of these devices are their ability to connect to the Internet and share their data with your health care provider or electronic medical record. You’ve heard of the “Internet of Things”, right? Think of this as the Internet of Medical Things. And they’ll all be connected through your smart phone or home Wi-Fi network.
The average med-tech product developer will really struggle with this. They’re good at packing in more features to sell more products, but the opposite is needed here – these devices actually need fewer features, and they must be much easier to use by the untrained person. But detailing the engineering challenges is a topic for a different time.
Legal and creative types reading this post are much more interested in the Intellectual Property implications of the coming flood of home-use med-tech. I’ll invite the smarter legal folk reading this to sound off with their own take on this trend, but let me throw a little chum in the water to get us started (Get it, chum, sharks, lawyers? Get it? … You guys are no fun.)
So obvious, I’ll start here first. Many Silicon Valley startups are inventing new devices to attack this market (and hence the need for fresh patents), but most mid-tier device makers are leveraging their existing patent portfolios to reach the home market. I love patents, but I’m not sure this is the most important piece of IP to think about here.
Think data. These new devices generate a lot of it. It may not mean much for each individual device, but in aggregate, they represent the ability to analyze results in new and profitable ways. More specifically, what you learn from those devices isn’t necessarily something you want to publish for the world to see. Ergo: Trade Secrets.
This may not seem as obvious, but think about the need to communicate – effectively – with large numbers of new customers who have never picked up a legitimate medical device. While new industrial designs could certainly qualify as patents, the communication materials and strategies should be protected by copyright because those materials will be critical to home-user adoption of this technology.
Now we’re talking! Actually, we’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s post, but it comes down to this: Branding efforts for many of these devices were conceived and executed with a very different (clinical) target audience in mind. One could argue that the “doctor-sounding” trademarks might convey higher credibility, but that’s only going to work for early adopters. To really get to meaningful volumes, product managers and product marketers are going to have to get creative.
Luckily, we like that part of our job.