A Colorado surgeon has sued the makers of Gore-Tex, alleging the company stole his idea to use the wind-resistant material in artificial arteries.
Dr. Glenn Kelly, former chief of vascular surgery at Denver Health Medical Center and now a private-practice surgeon in Englewood, is asking a Colorado federal court to award him all profits W.L. Gore & Associates has earned from medical uses of Gore-Tex since 1972. That was the year Kelly successfully implanted a Gore-Tex blood vessel in a dog.
Although privately held W.L. Gore & Associates is based in Newark, Del., it employs about 1,900 - roughly one-third of its entire work force - at its plants in Elkton, in Cecil County.
Company attorney David Johns, based in Gore's medical products division in Flagstaff, Ariz., said he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not seen it. He said Kelly's attorneys had not served Gore with court papers as of yesterday. Instead, he learned about the suit from the online edition of the Denver Post.
"We're surprised we were sued," he said.
Though best known as a guard against wind and rain, the polytetraflouroethylene in Gore-Tex material is also used in electronics, industrial parts and medical products. Recently, the Journal of the American College of Surgeons hailed a laparoscopic incision using Gore-Tex polymers as a treatment of choice to repair hernias. Kelly's lawsuit cites Gore as a leader in the $200 million vascular graft industry. Gore declined to characterize its share of that market, noting trade secrets.
When Gore entered the medical business in the early 1970s, Kelly collaborated on a project testing Gore-Tex tubes as a replacement for blood vessels clogged by fatty tissue or damaged by surgical procedures. Kelly said Gore stopped cooperating with his research in 1973.
In his lawsuit, Kelly said he handed over detailed notes of his research on artificial blood vessels to Gore without knowing the company had patented the technology as its own.
Kelly also has filed complaints against New Jersey-based medical products manufacturer C. R. Bard Inc. and Arizona surgeon David Goldfarb for laying claim to his invention. Kelly said he learned in 1999 of a patent dispute between W.L. Gore and C.R. Bard over the artificial blood vessels. Gore had brought in Goldfarb to further Kelly's research, but Goldfarb won a patent for the invention, and C.R. Bard acquired the rights to it. Eventually, C.R. Bard and W.L. Gore entered into a licensing agreement.
Kelly's lawyer, Joseph Kovarik of Denver, said he and his client are "hoping the dispute gets resolved in a timely manner." He declined further comment.
Wire services contributed to this article.