SOMATEX Medical Technologies GmbH: Ensuring Top Quality by Regularly Introducing New and Improved Products
The company SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH is a recognized specialist in the fields of development, production and sales of high-quality disposable instruments in the area of medical technology, particularly in the field of interventional radiology.
The company's philosophy is: "PERMANENT PRODUCT INNOVATION."
SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH specializes in the development and manufacturing of disposable minimally invasive instruments in the areas of tumor ablation, vertebroplasty, biopsy and oncology. In addition to the manufacturing of standard instruments for diagnostic and therapeutical procedures, SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH develops innovative special products and new instruments based on what treating physicians precisely need.
Since 1992, the company constantly has been developing and introducing on the market new medical therapy products in close cooperation with physicians, hospitals and university clinics. Its focus is set on methods and instruments allowing minimally invasive operations using magnetic resonance imaging. In the past few years, the SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH has also intensified its activities aiming at the development of new procedures and instruments used to treat painful vertebral compression fractures, for example, those caused by osteoporosis.
A timeline of the innovative products introduced by the company is available at http://www.somatex.com/Eng/somatex,firmenhistorie.htm
Protecting its Innovations
Dirk Hornscheidt, Research & Development Manager of SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH, points out that his company does not seek international patent protection for all its patentable solutions but for new products for the world market international patent applications are indispensable.
"It makes sense economically to protect the right ideas in strategically important countries; it needs a special skill to recognise what is right and important."
SPI CUT - is a disposable puncture needle for use at the spinal column.
In 1992, the company was founded by General Manager Frank Kniep in the environs of Berlin. From the very beginning the main focus was placed on the development of innovative disposable medical instruments.
At the beginning of the 90s, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques were sufficiently mature that operations or therapies carried out using MRI became increasingly important. However, that also required new materials. The development and production of the company’s own first MRI-compatible products were a milestone in the young company's activity. Today, this small, but significant market still has interesting prospects.
As early as in 1993, the first puncture and biopsy needles were developed, patented and manufactured. In the initial phase, the utility room of a closed down restaurant was converted into a clean room for production. Continuous extension of business segments allowed the company to grow systematically and hire new staff.
In 2002, the company moved into new business premises in Teltow near Berlin to resolve the shortage of space and improve the working conditions for the development, sales and administration departments. Within close proximity of the capital, Teltow has an excellent infrastructure and is very close to established research institutions and hospitals.
A very committed successful General Manager and the excellent innovative climate are the key success factors of the company. SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH does have a special development department but this department does not have the exclusive privilege of generating ideas. Rather, innovative ideas are cultivated by all staff, and fostered and rewarded by management. The jury of the Top 100 Award also commented on this fact and rated the company among the top 100 most innovative enterprises in Germany, in 2005. At present, an average 20% of the working hours of its 30 staff is dedicated to research and development. The R&D department consists of different areas. Dipl-Ing Dirk Hornscheidt and Mario Kilka are responsible for research and development in a narrower sense, but having direct contact with customers and constantly observing the market. Product managers, too, give important impulses for new product developments and improvements.
Most of the staff of SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH are top experts in their respective fields. They are highly motivated and work in a team-oriented environment within the flat hierarchical structure of the company. Customer satisfaction is the most important key to the long-term success of any business. This is why SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH uses a certified quality management system to plan and monitor quality.
Compared to the previous year, SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH was able to increase its net income before taxes by 66.9%. As a continually growing company, SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH focuses on sales partnerships for its products at the national and international level. The company always welcomes new partners. Furthermore, SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH offers its technological know-how and its manufacturing facilities to other sales companies and producers. In March 2005, the "SOMATEX OEM Division" was founded to process respective inquiries and demands in a quick and flexible manner.
SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH in the International Arena
At the international business level, SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH cooperates with established specialist suppliers, thus using existing expertise and distribution channels. The company’s products are presently available in some 40 countries, including European countries, e.g., the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Austria, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Russia, but also Japan, African countries and many others. A qualified and internationally experienced sales team deals with queries from abroad.
The export share of the company’s total turnover amounted to 35% in 2006. This percentage increased because the company has continuously expanded its international business. In 2007, it has again expanded its global activities. At the beginning of the year, SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH was able to conclude agreements with two new distributors in Brazil and South Korea. At present, it is negotiating with potential partners in Scandinavia, India and Israel. In the upcoming months, it will intensify its efforts to open up large potential markets in the USA, China and India. Depending on the product groups and the location of the market the competitive situations may be very different. The market for disposable medical equipment is dominated by large international corporations. With regard to individual products, the competitors of SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH are among highly specialised small and medium enterprises.
Secrecy, Patents and Trade Marks
The success essentially depends on how well the company succeeds in defending and strengthening its market position by creating leading edge technology. The question remains of how to effectively protect newly developed products. Is it sufficient to enter into secrecy agreements with customers or is it a better strategy in an individual case to file a patent application? A firm decision about this issue must be made before the product is introduced to the market. New product ideas give rise to the following questions: What profits may be expected from the new development? Does the product fit into the product portfolio of the company? Is it worth patenting?
As a rule, management invites researchers and developers to participate in the decision-making process on how to most effectively protect a new development. This is a concrete example of how the company’s success factor "flat hierarchies" is implemented.
The company has a set budget for filing IP applications and for IPR administration. Depending on the strategic decisions of the management, it will add further funds, if necessary.
Research & Development Manager, Dirk Hornscheidt, is also involved in the majority of the protected inventions of the company as co-inventor. He points out that the company follows a step-by-step procedure on how to deal with a patentable invention.
The company calls in external consultants and outsources tasks that are not core to its business. This approach proved very successful in dealing with the above issues. External consultants provided also important advice on industrial property issues which was gradually implemented and led to a clear improvement in effectiveness of IP work. The advice ranged from the goal-oriented choice of a patent law firm, the instrument of qualitative patent evaluation to cost-savings oriented outsourcing of administrative tasks, such as fee payments, to a specialized agency. The instrument of qualitative patent evaluation is applied as a basis for strategic decisions on whether an application is worth filing, what IP rights should be maintained and what licenses should be granted or obtained.
If patent protection is sought for an invention, the company always files a national application at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office first. Before a decision is made on a cost-intensive international patent application, the company will consult the chosen patent law firm and, in individual cases, also commission external consultants to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. This measure is taken to evaluate research results objectively in order to avoid an overestimation or institutional myopia.
The countries for international patent applications are carefully chosen, making sure to cover in particular those states in which manufacturing bases are located. The member States of the European Union and the USA are very important in this context. In the first few years, the costs of international patent applications were underestimated. Initially, too many applications were filed in too many countries.
At present, SOMATEX® has 16 protected inventions. The company first applied for a patent in Germany for 14 of these inventions. For two inventions, the company filed patent applications directly at the European Patent Office (without a previous national application) aiming to ensure fast international protection.
The patent attorneys of the company requested the extension of the territorial scope of protection for six of the 14 German patent applications, within the priority period, by filing applications at the European Patent Office and PCT applications at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva.
After previous negative experiences, the company adheres to the principle of filing a patent application before starting to promote a new product development.
Costs do not play a decisive role in the choice of the patent law firm, but a good price/ performance ratio is important. The high quality of the application documents, expert guidance and qualified advice provided on all questions of industrial property protection are determining criteria here. Cheap but poorly drafted, misleading or even incorrect patent claims always lead to an incalculable economic risk for the company.
The patent law firm that best suited the needs of the company was chosen through an open tender procedure, following the advice of an external consultant. The applicants were invited to draft documents for a test patent application and to make strategic recommendations. The procedure has proved absolutely effective. Meanwhile, the company has established a successful, pragmatic and result-oriented cooperation with the chosen patent law firm. To find out international prior art and technical or technological solutions already protected by patents, searches are performed in free publicly accessible patent databases of the European Patent Office and the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (esp@cenet/ DEPATISnet) at the beginning of a new development project. Searches are conducted by the staff of SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH who are involved in the research project. By doing that it is possible to avoid infringement of the rights of competitors and making bad investments.
For financial reasons, administrative services such as monitoring time limits and managing timely payments are handled by an agency and not by the patent law firm. This measure is advisable and has helped to reduce costs for managing registered IP rights without quality compromise.
SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH is open-minded as to granting licenses, licensing from others or cross-licensing agreements. The only relevant factor is whether the measure will contribute to ensuring long-term business success.
The company has 14 national trade marks registered at the DPMA, 13 of which protect product names. Three trade marks of products are also protected internationally at WIPO by applications under the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks.
System for the puncture and removal of histological tissue from the region of the iliac crest.
In cooperation with the law firm, it was possible to successfully solve legal disputes and problems regarding the defence of registered national and international trade marks of the company. A part of the company name " SOMATEX®" was registered as a trade mark at the national level and in 31 other countries. SOMATEX® consistently uses the ® symbol for registered marks on all products to clearly refer to the trade mark rights of the company.
Recommendations to SMEs
- Top quality in a "niche area" can only be ensured by continuous product innovation.
- Not all technical innovations must be patented. Depending on the market opportunities and risks associated with new developments, it must be assessed in each individual case whether it is more profitable for the company to maintain confidentiality and enter into secrecy agreements or to file a national/ international patent application. Confidentiality must be maintained through secrecy agreements, if required.
- The involvement of external consultants in justified individual cases contributes to an objective assessment of strategic decisions and new product ideas. The company's investment will be returned by achieving a greater level of certainty in the decision-making process.
- Trade mark registration of the company name and selected product names helps to establish the company as a player in the trade, raises its profile and differentiates the company from its competitors.
- The law firm for long term cooperation should be chosen carefully, possibly through an open tender procedure.
- In addition to cooperation with a patent law firm, the advice of external consultants should also be sought for important strategic decisions in individual cases.
- Routine services, such as fee payments and monitoring of time limits should be outsourced to low-cost service agencies.
- Patent disputes before the courts must be prepared very thoroughly by SMEs due to the high cost risk. A sober assessment of the chances of success and financial resources available for a legal dispute must be made in advance.
- Pragmatic decisions on granting or obtaining licenses and clear licensing contracts are advisable.
Production of disposable products as standard instruments for the health sector as well as special products and new customer-tailored developments.
In close cooperation with hospital doctors, SOMATEX® development engineers at the Teltow-based company develop innovative products tailored to meet individual customer's needs. A successful product passes through several stages of the manufacturing process, from the production to the sterilisation process to packing. Finally, the products are delivered directly to the customers.
The sales department is divided into two areas, national and international sales, which are controlled and coordinated at the company's base in Teltow.
Staff: about 30
Key products: disposable medical instruments for interventional radiology, gynaecology, internal medicine, orthopaedics, surgery.
Customers: university hospitals, hospitals, large surgeries
SOMATEX® Medical Technologies GmbH
+49 (0)3328 3076-0
Patent protection: 14 national patents, 6 EP/PCT patent applications
Patent filing order: DPMA first, then EP/PCT applications, 2 direct EP applications
Trade mark protection: 14 national trade marks, 4 international registrations
IP processing: patent law firm
- Top quality in a niche area
- Legal certainty due to patents and trade marks
- Inclusion of external consultants in strategic decisions
Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt
Technisches Informationszentrum Berlin
Gitschiner Str. 97
Phone: +49 (0)30 25992-0
Fax: +49 (0)30 25992-404