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Your iPhone will see you now

Barker Brettell LLP

By Philip Colbran, trainee patent attorney

What were the final items you picked up before leaving home this morning?

Chances are that it was your keys. And a smartphone. In 20 years the smartphone has become almost indispensable, helping us in many areas of our lives.

It is no longer a device just to call and text: you could argue that it’s a pocket office, replacing the need for a laptop; an entertainment portal, superseding the MP3 player; and a GPS navigation aid which has widely replaced stand-alone Sat-Navs.

And then there are the thousands of apps to choose from, enabling us to further personalise the smartphone’s function.

Is it only a matter of time before the smartphone is an integral part of our healthcare regime too?

To date the number of mobile applications categorised as ‘healthcare’ exceeds 45,000 on both the App Store and Google Play.

And after a few years promoting several other health apps, the NHS will be launching its own in December 2018.

So on a practical level, how will the new app benefit patients? It could be as simple as being able to FaceTime a doctor.

Telemedicine takes advantage of the smartphone’s video, audio and GPS capabilities, and may help to reduce waiting times – as well as allowing access to GPs and specialists for those that are unable to travel to appointments.

Again at the lower end of the technological spectrum, the smartphone can be used as a portable reference database – the majority of medical apps on various ‘top ten’ lists are reference apps.

As well as exposing the layman to a world of self-diagnosis, these apps can enable a health professional to travel to a patient and still access all of the necessary information.

One area where technology has already significantly transformed healthcare is in the monitoring and treatment of chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

This kind of technology (smartphone-as-measuring device) could be, and is being, applied to many different fields.

Self-treatment and diagnosis is on the up and it is difficult to see this slowing any time soon.

The smartphone is likely to play a key role in this, especially with the upcoming launch of the NHS app.

So how could the intellectual property in these apps be protected?

A large number of healthcare and medical apps currently available are reference guides, medication reminders or information logs.

On a basic level, these apps would be excluded from patentability because they lack technical subject matter – they are likely to fall under the presentation of information, business method or method of diagnosis exclusions.

However, it is possible to patent a healthcare-related app, particularly if the app forms part of a system (such as with a blood pressure or heart rate monitor).

It’s a complex area, so a good first step is to talk to an IP firm like Barker Brettell who has a dedicated medical sector group to discuss options for protecting a new medical app.