Invacare & Sunrise spar over wheelchair patent

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

ELYRIA, Ohio - Invacare is suing to stop Sunrise Medical from outfitting its Quickie Freestyle and Guardian Aspire power wheelchairs with a stability system that Invacare says is patented.

Invacare filed its lawsuit against Sunrise and Shoprider, which makes wheelchair parts for Sunrise, in late July in the U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

The lawsuit marks a rare salvo in the companies’ long-standing rivalry. While patent lawsuits fly routinely between manufacturers of sleep therapy products, the nation’s two largest manufacturers have not squared off over technology since the 1990s.

“We are not going to spend our dollars on proprietary technology and let other people copy us and get a free ride,” said Lou Slangen, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Invacare.

Invacare claims that Sunrise has copied its SureStep technology, an enhancement that Invacare rolled out at Medtrade in 2002 and that enables a user to drive a chair over everyday obstacles and thresholds up to three inches in height.

Sunrise Medical said that the technology that’s come under Invacare’s fire has been on its wheelchairs since 1998 and more recently upgraded for the Aspire and the Freestyle wheelchairs.

“That was one of the reason our outside counsel patent attorneys were so confident that we aren’t violating anybody’s patents,” said Sunrise Medical CEO Mike Hammes, “ because in fact that technology pre-existed Invacare’s introduction of it.”

A corporate affiliate of Invacare, an Australian company called Rollerchair, acquired the patent at issue in 1999. Rollerchair assigned the patent to Invacare four days before the suit was filed.