NuVasive Inc. (NSDQ:NUVA) must face a lawsuit filed by AngleFix Tech accusing it of infringing a patent for a surgical plate-and-screw system used in spine surgeries, a federal judge ruled this week.
AngleFix, a spinout from the University of North Carolina founded in 2005 "around a novel screw technology for orthopedic implants" according to a UNC website, sued NuVasive in April 2013, alleging infringement of its patent for "Multi-Angular Fastening Apparatus and Method for Surgical Bone Screw/Plate Systems."
AngleFix has also sued orthopedic giants Stryker (NYSE:SYK), Smith & Nephew (FTSE:SN, NYSE:SNN) and Wright Medical (NSDQ:WMGI), alleging infringement of the same patent, according to court documents.
In the NuVasive suit, the San Diego-based medical device company moved to have Judge Roger Benitez of the U.S. District Court for Southern California toss the case, arguing that its Helix ACP lacks an external thread on the screw head as specified in AngleFix’s ‘677 patent, according to court documents.
"NuVasive bases its motion on a single argument: that the admitted structure of the accused product does not contain an external thread on the screw head, and that each claim of the patent requires an external thread on the screw head," Benitez wrote. "Review of the pleadings demonstrates that AngleFix has not conceded NuVasive’s construction of the claims, and that claim construction will be required."
That means it’s too soon to grant NuVasive’s motion on the pleadings, Benitez wrote.
"NuVasive’s motion must fail because its argument requires this court to construe key terms in the patent at the pleading stage. NuVasive’s motion is explicitly premised upon its construction of the claim to require that the external thread on the screw head is required by each of the claims of the ‘677 patent, and that the accused products do not have such a ‘thread.’ AngleFix vigorously disputes these constructions on several grounds. NuVasive is correct in stating that claim construction is a question of law to be decided by the court. However, construction of the claims is not appropriate at this stage of the proceedings," he wrote. "This court will not engage in claim construction at this stage. The parties vigorously dispute key elements of the patent claims, and this court has not yet had the benefit of a full briefing, in compliance with the established procedures for claim construction, from both sides."
The Stryker case, filed in the U.S. District Court for Western Tennessee, was dismissed in August 2013, according to court records. Last December, Smith & Nephew lost its bid to stay the AngleFix lawsuit in the same court, court records show. The Wright Medical lawsuit, also filed in western Tennessee, is pending, according to the records.