Marko Aliaksandr/ Shuttershock
30 May 2024MedtechMarisa Woutersen

University files suit over AI ultrasound technology

University of British Columbia alleges patent infringement by medtech companies | Suit concerns AI-driven ultrasound systems for cardiac imaging.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) has sued GE HealthCare Technologies and subsidiary Caption Health over AI-enabled ultrasound tech.

The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, claim that the defendants have infringed UBC’s patent for innovative AI-based systems and methods for evaluating cardiac ultrasound images.

UBC asserted that the Chicago-headquartered companies have unlawfully commercialised the patented technology, covered under US patent number 11,129,591.

GE Healthcare’s acquisition of Caption Health in February 2023 is highlighted in the complaint, with UBC alleging that the companies are jointly responsible for the infringement activities.

UBC alleged that GE Healthcare’s products incorporating Caption Health’s technology infringe on the ’591 patent.

These products, marketed under names like ‘Caption Guidance’ and ‘Caption AI’, use AI-driven software to guide users in acquiring high-quality cardiac ultrasound images.

Features such as real-time visual guidance and automatic image capture were highlighted as infringing elements in the complaint.

The products are integrated into GE Healthcare’s Venue Family point-of-care ultrasound systems, and the Vscan Air SL handheld ultrasound system.

Addressing challenges in heart disease diagnosis

The complaint outlined that to diagnose heart disease accurately, techniques like echocardiography are used, which relies on ultrasound to create images of the heart.

However, obtaining clear echocardiographic images is challenging because it requires extensive training, and even slight changes can lead to inadequate images, delaying treatment.

Previous attempts to make the assessment process digital had technical problems because echocardiography needs multiple strategic views and sequences of images to capture the heart’s movement.

Understanding these challenges, UBC created innovations to enhance echocardiographic image analysis as seen in the ’591 patent, it said.

UBC’s path to patenting

Doctors and scientists from UBC began work on the patented invention in 2013 and created a system capable of training with thousands of images to provide accurate quality assessments.

UBC holds exclusive rights to the ’591 patent, granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in September 2021.

The patent addresses the challenges in capturing high-quality echocardiographic images for clinical measurement, and employs neural networks to assess and optimise the quality of echocardiographic images.

The neural networks are trained with specific view categories, allowing for tailored quality assessments that improve image accuracy and diagnostic utility.

Alleged efforts to address infringement

In early 2022, shortly after the issuance of the ’591 patent, UBC said that Caption Health appeared to be marketing an AI-based cardiac ultrasound software allegedly similar to its own patented invention.

Assuming Caption Health was unaware of the patent, UBC allegedly tried to resolve the issue amicably.

According to the complaint, in May 2022, UBC’s counsel wrote to Caption Health’s CEO, Steve Cashman, and suggested discussions to avoid litigation.

Despite a follow-up letter later that month, Caption Health did not initially respond, said UBC.

In June 2022, Cashman acknowledged the letters and promised a prompt reply but requested more information. UBC said it provided this in November 2022, but Caption Health allegedly did not respond substantively.

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