Chinese Fulbright succeeded in invalidating Ethicon’s minimally invasive surgical patent

On April 11, China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) issued a document showing that a Chinese patent ZL200410087485.9, titled "Surgical stapling apparatus containing a transmitting mechanism with a linking rack" of Ethicon Endo-surgery Company(爱惜康外科手术有限公司), a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson (强生), was declared invalid. The invalid petitioner was Jiangsu Fulbright Medical Inc (江苏风和医疗器材股份有限公司).


Founded in 1887 with a 100-year history, Ethicon started with producing sterile surgical sutures, and was subsequently acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1949. Its business currently focuses on development of innovative laparoscopic products and minimally invasive surgical products, including cardiovascular surgery, general surgery, breast surgery, plastic surgery, spine surgery, and wound closure surgery. Ethicon attaches great importance to patents with several thousand patents recognized worldwide, especially in the suture field, accounting for a large percentage of the business.


Fulbright is a Chinese medical company founded in 2011. As introduced on its official website, the company dedicates to the research and development of innovative medical devices and consumables for minimally invasive surgical procedures.


The latest-invalid patent was involved in a lawsuit filed by Ethicon in 2019, in which Ethicon accused Fulbright of infringing its patent ZL200410087485.9 by offering for sale two infringement related products on its official website. In the first instance, Shanghai Intellectual Property Court found for the plaintiff and ruled Fulbright had violated the patent.


Additionally, two other patent infringement lawsuits have been filed by Ethicon against Fulbright in 2019.


With the final invalidation of the patent, the risk of bearing corresponding liability for infringement damages has been partly cleared. Fulbright has also attempted to invalid the other two infringement-involved patents (which are involved in the other two cases started by Ethicon), which have been sustained by CNIPA nevertheless.


In surgical instruments industry, foreign giants have basically and meticulously patented all implementations and technologies that can be thought of, leaving little room for further major breakthrough to be made by latecomers like China, thus to realize original innovation, Chinese medical device companies do have a long way to go.