Friday, March 23, 2007

Patenting the uses of the DICOM medical image standard

In a prior post, I described how the uses of standards can be patented, using DICOM as an example. DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) is being actively promoted as a universal and exclusive standard for all medical images.

This blog examines one instance, in some detail, of a patent related to a common use of the DICOM standard.

U.S. Patent 6,725,231 is entitled "DICOM XML DTS/schema generator". This patent was filed March 27, 2001 by Jingkun H and Kwok Pun Lee and assigned to Philips Electronics. The patent was awarded on April 20, 2004.

The methods covered by a patent are enumerated in a list of patent claims. Claim 1 (of 15 claims) for this patent is:

"1. A method for mapping a DICOM specification into an XML document, comprising: mapping each entry of a DICOM table of the DICOM specification into a corresponding XML element of a plurality of XML elements, outputting each XML element of the plurality of XML elements to the XML document, in an output format that conforms to at least one of: an XML document-type-definition and an XML Schema. "

The reach of a patent is extended if it is awarded in both U.S. and International Patent Offices. The same application, has been awarded by the World Intellectual Property Organization, (WIPO), WO/2002/077896 DICOM XML DTS/schema generator.

Even after a patent has been awarded, it can sometimes be successfully argued, in court, that the claims are obvious or non-original and cannot be asserted against a user.

How do scientists demonstrate that an idea is original and non-obvious? They publish their work in a respected journal in their field of work. Journals are expected to reject submissions that are obvious or for which prior art (earlier publications) exist. For centuries, scientists have used publications as evidence of the validity, originality and scientific value of their work.

Jingkun H and Kwok Pun Lee published three original papers in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA), that are contemporary with their patent applications, and that describe methods related to their patents.

Zhao L, Lee KP, Hu J.
Generating XML schemas for DICOM structured reporting templates.
J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2005 Jan-Feb;12(1):72-83.

Lee KP, Hu J.
XML Schema Representation of DICOM Structured Reporting.
J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2003 Mar-Apr;10(2):213-23.

Tirado-Ramos A, Hu J, Lee KP.
Information object definition-based unified modeling language
representation of DICOM structured reporting: a case study of
transcoding DICOM to XML.
J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2002 Jan-Feb;9(1):63-71.

These described steps exemplify the way that the uses of a standard were patented. As shown previously, many uses of the DICOM standard have been included in current patent applications.

Having multiple image standards provides users an "out" when one standard becomes excessively encumbered. As discussed in a prior post, there are times when using a specification, rather than a standard, facilitates the the free, unencumbered exchange of annotations and image binary data.

-Jules Berman

tags: DICOM, intellectual property, medical images, patents, specifications, standards
My book, Principles of Big Data: Preparing, Sharing, and Analyzing Complex Information was published in 2013 by Morgan Kaufmann.

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