TAMPA — Locked in a patent dispute, Moffitt Cancer Center has filed a lawsuit against one of its own doctors, accusing him of trying to claim sole ownership of a medical invention the hospital says it played a role in creating.
The suit, filed last week in Hillsborough County, names Segundo J. Gonzalez, a surgical oncology fellow who began working at Moffitt in 2012. Over the next few years, Gonzalez and Yanhui Guo, a professor at St. Thomas University in Miami, developed a Google Glass-type device that uses 3-D ultrasound technology to help surgeons better see patients' tumors during operations. In a grant application, they called it "GoogleGlass for Surgeons," and described the wearable technology as specifically targeted to improving the accuracy of breast cancer surgery.
Aware that Gonzalez was planning to develop such a tool, Moffitt had him sign an agreement stating that anything he invented while working for the hospital would belong to Moffitt.
Here the stories diverge. According to Moffitt's lawsuit, Gonzalez broke his agreement in 2014. Several months after the hospital helped him apply for a patent, he refused to sign a document giving Moffitt ownership rights.
The hospital's lawsuit doesn't guess at how much Gonzalez's invention might be worth, but Moffitt's willingness to take one of its own to court suggests the device holds promise. Gonzalez certainly thought so: In March, he formed his own corporation, Medsights Tech Corp., to market the technology, a move that seemed like a poke in the eye to his employer.
"Moffitt is committed to protecting its intellectual assets as a publicly supported nonprofit cancer center," hospital spokeswoman Patty Kim wrote in an email. She declined to answer questions about whether Gonzalez is still employed by Moffitt. Gonzalez has been no more forthcoming himself — on advice from his attorneys, he declined to speak to a reporter.
Several days after the hospital sued him, Gonzalez and Guo filed a lawsuit against Moffitt — in Miami-Dade County, where Guo resides — accusing the hospital of claiming credit for an invention they say Moffitt had no part in.
Although Moffitt's attorneys argue the hospital provided Gonzalez with significant resources, research time, help with grant applications, and connections to investors, his lawsuit argues just the opposite.
According to Gonzalez's lawsuit, he and Guo began working on the glasses before he accepted the Moffitt fellowship. Moreover, the lawsuit states they developed the technology, "using their own equipment, software and not during daily working hours."
When Moffitt lawyers helped Gonzalez apply for a patent, it was with the understanding that Gonzalez would own the patent rights, his lawsuit states.
"At no point did Moffitt's counsel indicate that Moffitt would try to assert any claim to the Invention," Gonzalez says in his lawsuit. But after the application was filed, the hospital's legal department began pressuring him to relinquish his rights in exchange for the ability to license the technology through his corporation.
According to Kim, the hospital spokeswoman, any money Moffitt would have made from licensing Gonzalez's device would have gone back into its fund for cancer research and treatment. "Moffitt refutes the allegations" in Gonzalez's lawsuit, Kim wrote.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.