At 6 p.m. CST on November 10, 2009, Foundation Surgical Hospital will present a live webcast of a partial knee replacement featuring the iUni® G2 Personalized Knee Resurfacing System. The live procedure will be performed by Dr. Terry Clyburn and Dr. Brian Parsley from Foundation Surgical Hospital in Houston, Texas. During the webcast, the viewing audience can email questions to the doctors. The patented technology that will be used during the procedure comes from ConforMIS, Inc., a privately-held company that develops and commercializes medical devices for osteoarthritis treatment and joint damage, which allegedly holds proprietary rights to more than 250 patents and patent applications in the areas of imaging software, image processing, implant design, surgical techniques, instrumentation, and manufacturing. While this announcement tied together with discussion of proprietary technology is likely to capture a lot of attention for both Foundation Surgical Hospital and ConforMIS, ConforMIS has missed an excellent opportunity to tout its technology to a sophisticated audience by not including any patent numbers in the press release, and not having such information findable on its website.
As I wrote several days ago in The Making of a Good Patent Press Release, so many companies miss golden opportunities to get free publicity simply by not including patent numbers in press releases. Here, ConforMIS has demonstrated some real PR savy, tying a live webcast of a partial knee replacement on ORLive.com together with information touting its technology. The ConforMIS website has a lot of information relating to its technology, and explained in simple, easy to understand terms. This use of press releases, an informative website and what some may term a stunt, would receive nothing short of an A+ if the company took the next step and made its intellectual property assets, particularly its patent portfolio, easily findable.
Time and time again I see PR efforts that range from flat out bad to very good, and rarely do I see examples that are perfectly illustrative of how to spread the word regarding a new and exciting patented technology. This attempt by ConforMIS comes exceptionally close, but then fumbles the ball on the goal line. With the advent of blogging and its growing acceptance there are many writers who develop a hyper-technical niche, and if you really want to harness the power of a viral Internet you need to play to that audience and make it easy for them to get the word out for you. A press release should not be about making yourself feel good or puffing your company, it should be about giving maximal ability for those who are interested to learn more and write about whatever news you have to announce.
Funding is absolutely critical for start-up and growing technology based companies. I think it is fair to say that most investors are not particularly sophisticated when it comes to underlying technologies, but they are certainly sophisticated in business and investing. That is why you need to have a story that can be articulated in Executive Summary form, and a business plan that lays out all the details for those who are interested. Similarly, if you are basing your company on a technology you need to make sure that investors and others who matter can easily understand what your technology is and why it is important and useful. You also need to have patents that back up your claims and which will provide exclusive rights that will allow you to at least make it somewhat difficult for competitors to encroach upon your turf.
It is nice to say that you have a lot of patents, but IBM (NYSE: IBM) has a lot of patents as well and anyone who is a sophisticated investor or knowledgeable about patent law knows that many of IBM’s patents are crap. They have patent applications on a method of scheduling a meeting using e-mail, and a method of reserving a space in line for a bathroom. Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) also has some interesting patents, including a method for assigning parking spaces. Does anyone think those “inventions” will be valuable even if they become patented? Of course not, so the truth that sophisticated individuals know is that not all patents are created equally. So if you have a portfolio of issued patents and pending patent applications don’t make the mistake of believing all patents are created equally and investors will be somehow magically mystified by the existence of a patent. Investors and serious technology writers want to know what is behind the curtain and whether the patents in your portfolio are good, bad or ugly.
With respect to ConforMIS and this particular news story, it does seem that there is a lot of interesting technology at work, and could indeed be protected by a number of quality patents that might cover a variety of aspects of the technology. ConforMIS knee implants and instrumentation are designed to address all stages of osteoarthritis, the most common reason for knee replacement surgery. All of their devices have been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration for marketing in the US, and in 2009, ConforMIS was named a winner of the Medical Design Excellence Awards for contributions and advances in the design of medical products, for its iUni and iDuo resurfacing implants.
According to Dr. Terry Clyburn, Orthopedic Surgeon at Foundation Surgical Hospital:
We use a CT scan of a patient’s diseased knee to create a 3-D model of the anatomy. This model is then used to develop an implant and accompanying surgical instrumentation that are precisely matched to the anatomy of the patient. This simplified, more accurate surgical technique results in an implant that is almost identical to the original knee, corrected for any arthritic deformity that the patient has developed. If a patient is young, healthy and has arthritic damage limited to either the medial or lateral compartment, this is an excellent alternative to the more profound total knee replacement.
The iUni® G2 is designed and manufactured using a patient-specific approach, enabling each patient to receive a tailor-made implant. For certain patients, the personalized fit enables a more bone preserving, resurfacing procedure that can help them maintain the natural kinematics of their knee. In addition, the iUni comes packaged with disposable, patient-specific cutting and placement guides called iJigs®, which are designed from the same scans as the implant. The OR Live broadcast will be one of the first to use the iUni G2, a next generation version of the award winning system introduced in 2008.