Alcon and Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) eye care division have reached a settlement over a lawsuit involving femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery equipment, rather than risking a trial that might have resulted in fines that may have reached into the billions of dollars. Alcon had agreed to pay J&J Vision $199 million, a day before the jury trial was scheduled to begin.
According to the release, the one-time payment would not only resolve numerous international intellectual property conflicts between the parties but will also provide Alcon access to certain of J&J’s intellectual property and J&J will have the same access to Alcon’s.
J&J released a statement:
“As part of the resolution of this matter, the parties have exchanged cross-licenses of certain intellectual property and other mutually agreed covenants and releases.”
The action was first brought in June 2020 by the J&J subsidiary Surgical Vision, which claimed that Alcon’s LenSx laser system, which was introduced in 2010, contains technology that directly violates J&J patents.
To remove cataracts from the eye, femtosecond lasers provide an alternative to conventional phacoemulsification techniques. In a normal phaco operation, a surgeon makes incisions in the eye and uses a needle to generate a flap in the lens capsule, an ultrasonic probe to dislodge the cataract, and a vacuum to remove the fragments. The process is streamlined with the laser-assisted approach as the laser may be used to create the incisions, open the lens, and dissect the cataract.
Several technologies used in J&J’s Catalys and IFS laser systems are protected by patents and copyrights, including optical coherence tomography imaging to direct the laser. A software platform included in the iFS system allows surgeons to plan procedures and get real-time guidance as they progress.
Although J&J’s initial 2020 lawsuit concentrated on allegations that Alcon’s LenSx system had violated the Catalys system’s patented laser technology, an amended lawsuit filed later that year focused on claims that Alcon’s system stole the iFS software platform, which includes copyrighted coding, user interfaces, structure, and more.
According to the complaint, J&J discovered several similarities between the LenSx and iFS software programs. The similarities were namely the same-named file folders, on-screen instructions with the same punctuation and nonstandard capitalization as iFS alerts, and more than 300 references to file, function, object names, and other text that were first discovered in the iFS source code.
As per the court document presented in which J&J claimed that the theft took place after Ron Kurtz, Co-founder of Intralase and developer of the iFS system, left in 2008 to start LenSx and later hired a few of his former colleagues who had direct access to the iFS laser computer programs. Alcon rejected the alleged theft in its answer to the case and countered by asserting that J&J Surgical Vision had in fact violated LenSx patents. Alcon claims that J&J was using the case as a “smoke screen” to obstruct LenSx sales.
J&J is planning to file damages of up to $3.7 billion from Alcon LenSx system earnings in the jury trial that is scheduled to begin in a few days.