The number of organs transplants in Dutch hospitals is greatly on the rise: with 15% in 2018. This increase is partly the result of the organ perfusion machine developed by Groningen company Organ Assist. In recent years, company founder Arjan van der Plaats and his team developed several versions of this machine and applied for a patent. “The machine allows us to test organs that would have been rejected before but are often still suitable for transplantation. Active intellectual property (IP) management certainly contributed to this success.”
Arjan van der Plaats was conducting his doctoral research at the UMCG in Groningen back in 1999 when he had the idea for a machine that could flush removed organs with blood: organ perfusion. Together with his professor, he founded the company Organ Assist. When they were ready to apply for their first patent for a liver perfusion system, they called in the assistance of the V.O. patent experts.
“An important component of the described method is the use of two pumps: one that continuously pumps and the other that pulses,” explains Van der Plaats. “That’s how we mimic the heartbeat.” The pair also filed a patent application for a second machine for flushing kidneys. This time the patent applied to clever innovations in the design. “Surgeons no longer need to manually connect the blood vessels to the pump.”
The third step is an application that can perfuse the organs while still inside the deceased donor. “What is special is that we were also able to patent the treatment. This is usually not allowed: each patient must have access to medical treatment. But the V.O. consultants noted that we are in fact treating the organ and not the patient. Our company is not well-versed in this type of legal knowledge.”
Van der Plaats is regularly impressed with the recommendations made by V.O. “I often file for a very specific patent. But the consultants don’t simply accept this application. They will ask questions and dig deeper to explore more patent options. By doing so they also ensure that the patent covers possible future developments of the concept.”
More innovations and patents followed. Active management of its intellectual property now plays a key role in Organ Assist’s organisational management. “We are an R&D company at heart: our knowledge and expertise are the foundation of our company. We must protect these to extract value. The very first question investors usually ask is: did you patent your technique? Otherwise our competitors can just copy it. No investor would be interested in such an endeavour.”
Thanks to its patents, Organ Assist is in great shape. Offering a series of unique products, the company plays a leading international role in organ perfusion People are living longer and the rates of diabetes and obesity are increasing. This reduces the quality of the available organs. By flushing an organ with the perfusion machine, we nourish and oxygenate the organ, preserving its quality. In addition, doctors can use this machine to test the organs outside of the body. As a result, many organs that would have been rejected in the past can now be tested and still be used. Thanks to organ perfusion more organs are available for transplantation, in 2018 the number increased by 15%.This also brings new challenges, “After two and a half years, the worldwide patent application must be followed up with a national application. We only do this for the countries where we have enough clients. Once again, V.O. plays a leading role here. We sometimes say: V.O is our patent department.”