15 November 2011 -Â Anyone who spends any time talking to me knows that I think medical devices present a wonderful opportunity.Â When you look at the variables affecting your ability to make money off these inventions (expense to develop, time to market, usefulness of patent protection, etc.) they come up looking pretty rosy.
But.....not all medical device innovations are created the same.Â I always say that the best medical device innovations come out of new surgical procedures because everything is new and you can get decent patent protection.
However, the reverse is also true.Â The worst medical device innovations come from old surgical procedures where physicians have been using the same basic equipment for decades and having the same basic complaints about the limitations of the equipment.
You could view that as an opportunity to innovate: "Hey!Â Lots of people have been annoyed by this device for decades but only I have the plan to fix it."
You could view that same scenario with an Occam's Razor mindset and the belief that complex systems find an equilibrium over long periods of time.Â That would tell you that even if the limitations of the device are annoying, the limitations are not preventing surgeons from using the device effectively for decades.Â Further, you could assume that if surgeons have been suggesting improvements for decades, the device may already be close to optimal.Â After all....surgeons are smart people and medical device companies want to sell the best device possible.Â Is it reasonable to think that we would see decades worth of surgeons and companies recommending the wrong improvement, only for one person to come along and fix everything in one fell swoop?
Even though that type of singular intellectual breakthrough is attractive to the surgeon ego, we know that it is unlikely to happen very often.
So, the upshot is: Any time you see a proposed innovation to an established medical device, it is very likely that this innovation has been suggested by some other surgeon in the past.Â Even when it does appear that "your" surgeon has something truly new and innovative, caution is still warranted.Â Why has no one thought of this before?Â Are they the smartest surgeon of all time?Â Odds would suggest that they probably are not the smartest of all time, so we must then consider whether they are doing something weird during the procedure that causes them to have a unique problem with the device.
It's pretty easy to track that information down: Talk to their colleagues.Â Sometimes you discover that their colleagues are surprised that the "innovator" is able to tie his/her own shoelaces given their lack of dexterity.Â In that case, you probably don't want to get too excited about an innovation that makes it possible for hack surgeons to use a common device because there are not too many hack surgeons around (at least not in the USA).Â On the other hand, you might get lucky and discover that they are doing the procedure in a new and clever way that is causing unforeseen problems with the existing equipment.Â And this means that you've potentially got something very cool (remember what I said about new procedures above).
All of this just goes to say that you should be initially very skeptical of any innovator in any field who claims to have solved a long standing problem.Â Usually their solution either isn't new or it is only useful to them because they're weird.
*Articles are reproduced with permission from Dean Stell, the owner of Technologycommercialization.blogspot.com