Doctors in court claiming Mindef copied idea for mobile emergency medical station

Concept of mobile medical vehicles not new, says Govt; it wants patent revoked

TWO doctors have taken the Government to court for patent infringement, claiming that the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) knowingly copied the concept of their mobile emergency medical station.

The Government, however, has rejected the allegation, arguing that the concept was not new. It has also counterclaimed, seeking a declaration from the court that the patent granted to the doctors had always been invalid, and an order for it to be revoked.

At issue is the "mobile medical vehicles" used by Mindef. Dr Ting Choon Meng, 53, and Dr Mak Koon Hou, 51, claimed that the concept of the vehicles was similar to theirs.

The duo filed for a patent for their concept in Singapore in December 2002. It was granted in September 2005.

The five-day trial opened yesterday, with the doctors passionately defending what they claim is their invention.

Dr Ting, an adjunct professor at Nanyang Technological University, and Dr Mak, a cardiologist in private practice, launched the suit through their company MobileStats Technologies, which markets their "mobile first aid post". They are represented by lawyers from Bih Li & Lee. Their "mobile first aid post" is essentially a truck that opens up to become a resuscitation area with surgical equipment, a built-in suction system for removing blood, fluids and debris, and emergency life-saving devices.

The concept was conceived by the doctors shortly after the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Licences were granted to vendors for the Singapore Civil Defence Force, to whom they pitched the prototype.

But according to court documents, Mindef has also been using their "mobile medical vehicles" since at least July 10, 2009. The doctors have said it approached them before that for discussions about their mobile station.

They then gave suggestions on how to improve it for use by the army, but heard nothing more.

In dispute now are the patent claims of the "extendable overhead coverage panels" - the side walls of the vehicle, which can be raised and include a further extension to provide more shelter.

But defence lawyer Andy Leck from Wong & Leow LLC argued that the concept was not new and the patent was imprecise. The British army used similar shelters during World War II, he said. Dr Mak disagreed, saying they only looked similar "on the surface".

Mr Leck then compared the panel concept with that used by "hot dog stands" and "food vans". Dr Ting retorted: "I totally disagree. If it had (been similar), it would have been done long ago by the civil defence."

They further crossed swords over the patent's vagueness, with Mr Leck taking issue with the phrase "substantially horizontal" to refer to the panels. He asked the doctors to define the angle this referred to. But the doctors declined to specify, saying the vehicle was meant to be flexible so as to be operational regardless of rough terrain and tight spaces.

Mr Leck also argued that their patent - which has been granted in several countries - should be deemed invalid because it had run into issues in the US and Europe.

The doctors had to amend their claims there because the panels were deemed "not novel", the court heard. But despite this, they had not sought to amend the Singapore patent.

The trial continues today.