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March 8, 2012

Damages awarded in patent case

A federal jury in Pittsburgh has awarded the University more than $36.88 million in damages in a patent-infringement suit against Varian Medical Systems, but the battle isn’t over.

The Feb. 23 decision followed a decision in January that found the California-based medical device manufacturer willfully infringed on two of the University’s patents in Varian’s Real-time Position Management Respiratory Gating System (RPM System) and in the Clinac and Trilogy accelerators sold in combination with the RPM System. (See Feb. 9 University Times.)

The RPM System synchronizes imaging and radiation therapy with a patient’s breathing to better target tumors during cancer treatment.

The award represents “reasonable royalties” based on Varian’s sales of the RPM system and the linear accelerators from mid-June 2002 through March 2011.

However, the two decisions could be rendered meaningless based on the outcome of a third issue, which the court is scheduled to hear on April 16.

Earlier in the proceedings, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab divided the trial into three parts. While the issue of willful infringement and the damages have been decided, the third part of the trial will focus on the validity of one of the patents in question. That patent, for an “apparatus responsive to movement of a patient during treatment/diagnosis” (known as the ’554 patent), was issued March 17, 1998.

Among the reasons a patent may be invalid, according to the court, is if  “it claims subject matter that is not new or that is obvious” or if the description in the patent’s specification is not “sufficiently full and clear to have allowed persons of ordinary skill in the field of technology of the patent to make and use the invention without undue experimentation at the time the patent application was originally filed.”

A verdict for Varian in the third portion would make the verdicts in the other two portions moot, according to court documents.

Noting that the validity of the patent still must be tried, Spencer Sias, Varian Medical Systems’s vice president for investor relations and corporate communications, told the University Times: “If necessary, Varian will file an appeal in the higher courts. We cannot comment further on ongoing litigation.”

In response to the damage award, Pitt officials issued the following statement: “This infringement case began in 2008. The University is pleased with the jury’s recent damage award and finding of willful infringement and with the progress made so far in the case. Because the case is ongoing and may not conclude for some time, the University cannot provide more specific comments on the matters pending before the Western District Court of Pennsylvania.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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