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Alice Saves Medical Startup From Death By Telehealth Patent

Justus Decher, a veteran of the U.S. Army, has a motto he uses when faced with adversity: “Don’t get even, get Justice.”

A health scare in 2010 saw Justus going to the emergency room about 20 times for observation. Each time he went, he would have a battery of tests to determine if something was wrong. The hospital trips meant a lot of worry and time, even if all his tests came back normal.

Being an entrepreneur and living by his motto, Justus thought, “There must be a better way.” Justus saw how technology could allow patients, families, and health care providers to better monitor patient health from home. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention.

The patent gave no explanation on how to accomplish any of the goals it claimed. Instead, it seemed to claim the idea of telehealth itself. Justus thought, “I put in four years of work to build my product, and this patent seems so basic.”

So in 2013, Justus set to work on building a product not only for himself, but for everyone else too. His company, MyVitalz, was formed. He set to work on building a product to send medical information to health professionals who could analyze it remotely and let a patient and the healthcare team know as soon as possible if something were amiss.

By 2016, Justus’ company was still small, but thriving. It had just been named one of top finalists in a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ competition to find new ideas and services in home telehealth, the practice of providing medical care remotely. Justus anticipated that new regulations that came into effect as part of the Affordable Care Act would make telehealth an important piece in delivering affordable, preventative medicine. And this was especially important for rural hospitals, like those in Nebraska where Justus lives.

But right when things were going well, Justus and MyVitalz got a demand letter from My Health, Inc., claiming that the technology Justus built infringed on U.S. Patent No. 6,612,985, titled “Method and system for monitoring and treating a patient.” The patent, filed for in 2001, claimed telehealth broadly, even though the practice had been around since telephones were first invented. The letter told Justus that MyVitalz needed a license to the patent if it was going to continue to operate.

When Justus received the demand letter, he was shocked. He read the patent, and it seemed incredibly mundane. It didn’t offer any of the technical detail that Justus knew went into building a complex product like the one offered by MyVitalz. It gave no explanation on how to accomplish any of the goals it claimed. Instead, it seemed to claim the idea of telehealth itself. Justus thought, “I put in four years of work to build my product, and this patent seems so basic.”

"It almost felt as though my business was being blackmailed," Justus says. "Sure, I could make the threat go away with a payment that would be less than the cost of litigation. But I refused to pay just to be able to keep running my business which I'd devoted my life to building."

Justus scoured the Internet for information that could help him with My Health’s demand. He tried to figure out how he could defend himself, knowing that to do so would likely mean selling his personal assets to afford a lawyer.

My Health persisted in its demands. In February 2017, several months after My Health made its first demand, it told Justus and MyVitalz that it wanted a $25,000 payment.

Luckily for Justus and MyVitalz, just one day after My Health sent its $25,000 demand, a court recommended that the patent be invalidated under Alice v. CLS Bank, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that simply implementing an abstract idea on a computer doesn’t turn that idea into a patentable invention. The My Health patent is exactly the sort of patent Alice was intended to stop, patents that are nothing more than a broad idea implemented using generic, well known technology. The court ruling finding My Health’s patent invalid became final on July 3, 2017.

Thanks to Alice, Justus never heard from My Health again. He’s now back focusing on what matters most: helping people get better health care.

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