The following article by Frank Tobe, editor and publisher of The Robot Report,
first appeared on Robohub.org in their special focus series: High-risk / High-reward.
NSF, DARPA and NASA funded a project to solve a very real problem: providing medical attention to Americans in remote places such as space, war or scientific expeditions. The initial concept was to be a telepresence project but with no known solution. That was the high-risk research project funded by the three agencies.
Shortly before going public, and before getting FDA approval, Intuitive Surgical was sued for patent infringement by Computer Motion, Inc., which had its own system, the ZEUS Robotic Surgical System - a system which was already approved for use in Europe.
The litigation was resolved in 2003 when the two companies agreed to merge, thus ending the litigation. The ZEUS system was ultimately phased out in favor of the da Vinci system. The litigation created an active depository of intellectual properties - hundreds of patents and trade marks - which Intuitive Surgical has vigorously defended in a way that has created a competitive void in the commercialization of similar devices and systems.
|Intuitive Surgical's new da Vinci single port system.|
SRI and Stanford University did get money for licenses to use the technologies they developed, but not the huge rewards stemming from the successes of Intuitive Surgical.