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Inventor of Diabetes Monitoring device wins £2M in prolonged patent battle

A scientist who invented pioneering technology in the early 1980s to test the concentration of glucose in blood and other liquids was awarded £2 million compensation by the Supreme Court.

Prof Ian Shanks, who is now aged 71, developed the ECFD system, used by diabetics to monitor their condition, for a subsidiary of multinational giant Unilever in Bedfordshire in 1982. The invention was able to measure the concentration of glucose in blood and other liquids but the rights belonged to the company and until now he was not entitled to a share of the benefits.

Unilever was later granted various patents relating to the invention deriving a net benefit from the 'Shanks patents' of approximately £24.3 million over the years.


Court Process

Prof Shanks applied for compensation under the Patents Act 1977 in 2006, on the basis that his invention had been of outstanding benefit to the company, and that he was entitled to a fair share of that benefit. Up until the Supreme Court ruling however Prof Shanks had lost at each stage in the lower courts with appeals to the High Court and the Court of Appeal failing to advance the inventor's case for compensation.

Lord Justice Kitchin, a former senior judge of the Patents Court, now sitting on the Supreme Court, stated that the rewards for Unilever were "substantial and significant; were generated at no significant risk; reflected a very high rate of return, and stood out in comparison with the benefit Unilever derived from other patents".


A 13 Year Legal 'Slog'

Speaking after the ruling, Prof Shanks told the PA news agency that he was relieved to see the end of what had been a "13-year slog" to get compensation.

He added that he felt pride in having invented something which "probably affected several hundred million people" living with diabetes.

Prof Shanks, who lives in Dundee, told the BBC that most of the £2 million compensation would go towards his legal costs. "I would much prefer that employee inventors believe that if they do something that turns out to be really profitable and significant, they may actually stand a chance of getting an award," he said.


New advances in Diabetes Monitoring

Although the ECFD is in widespread use along with the finger stick test where diabetics use a needle to draw blood and apply to a test strip, Occuity, a UK medtech company, are in the process of developing a new generation of diabetes monitors that rely on measurements through the eye instead of an invasive blood test.

The new optical diabetes monitor from Occuity works by shining a low power beam of light into the eye and determining the blood glucose level by analyzing the refractive changes in the returned light. Still at an early stage, the Occuity non-contacting diabetes monitor has shown in trials to give a close correlation to the blood glucose levels determined by the actual blood test on the patient. The second prototype of the Occuity blood glucose monitor is due to be tested in 2020 and incorporates new technology both to miniaturise the size of the device and also to enhance the correlation between the data from the direct blood tests and the data from the eye to the point where it is hoped further clinical trials can be undertaken. For further information on the diabetes monitoring device, visit www.occuity.com.

ECFD Device in use

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