Yet the most significant patent portfolio so far is the one held by Intuitive Surgical, maker of the Da Vinci system. Shown here is a drawing from Intuitive's patent on a "Cooperative minimally invasive telesurgical system." In 2003, Intuitive merged with Computer Motion Inc. -- which had previously sued Intuitive for patent infringement -- and since then their combined patent portfolio has been one factor in fending off potential rivals. Computer Motion's Zeus surgical robotics system was subsequently phased out.
"Since that time, it's been a one-horse race," said John Hargrove, CEO of Titan Medical, which is in the process of preparing to bring its own surgical robot to market, with a design that Titan believes is sufficiently distinct from that of the da Vinci to avoid infringement claims.
Titan invented the "single-port" design, as opposed to the da Vinci's original "dual-port" design, meaning it's meant to perform surgery with one small incision rather than two. But while Titan works to bring its product to market, Intuitive has already introduced a single-port upgrade to the da Vinci.
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