SCIENCE / TECHNOLOGY : Luther Medical of Tustin Files Suit Accusing Firm of Patent Infringement

Compiled by Jonathan Weber, Times staff writer

Luther Medical Products of Tustin has built its business on the strength of founder Ron Luther's patents, and now it's going to court to defend them. Luther Medical said Tuesday that it had filed a $13.2-million patent infringement suit against K-Tube of San Diego, asserting that K-Tube has violated a key patent for a special needle used to insert catheters.

"This is our first problem with this," Luther said. "We've never had anyone infringe before."

But K-Tube isn't very worried. The hypodermic needle manufacturer is making a "splittable" needle--which Luther says infringes his patent--for a Texas company called Gesco that makes catheters. And Gesco has agreed to hold K-Tube harmless for any patent-infringement problems.

Jim Dickinson, president of K-Tube, said the Luther lawsuit is really an outgrowth of a another suit filed by Gesco in which the Texas company sought a court ruling that its products don't infringe the Luther patents. Gesco used to buy needles for its catheters from Luther, and Luther said they are simply seeking a cheaper source of supply.

"We've made some modifications, and there are some questions about how strong the Luther patent really is," said Dickinson. "And it's only a few thousand dollars in products sales."

But Luther says sales of the splittable needle are just beginning to take off, especially now that the company has negotiated a second contract to provide them to medical giant Johnson & Johnson. Stay tuned.

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