Friday, August 27, 2004

Medtronic Case Goes to Jury: After a month and a half of testimony presented by two high-powered legal teams, a jury of eight men and three women in Memphis will decide whether a company with a significant financial presence here owes an inventor more than $1 billion.

The players in the trial, of a suit instigated three years ago, include Medtronic, Inc., a Fridley, Minn.-based medical technology company that owns Medtronic Sofamor Danek. The subsidiary company is based in Memphis, where it employs about 1,200 people. It's Medtronic's spinal business, and accounts for about 12% of the company's overall revenue.

Dr. Gary Michelson invented important technology that contributes significantly to Medtronic's revenue stream. He claims the company is cheating him out of rights and royalties that belong to him. Attorneys for Medtronic implored jurors Thursday to keep intact agreements that protect much of Medtronic's spinal fusion technology, according to a report in Friday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. That technology is a cornerstone of Medtronic's highly profitable $1.8 billion-a-year spinal business, the business of Memphis-based Medtronic Sofamor Danek.

Michelson a spinal surgeon who lives and practices in Los Angeles, claims in the trial that Medtronic cheated him out of royalties in a $1.7 billion contract dispute playing out in U.S. District Court. Thursday's closing arguments wrapped up 46 days of testimony before a jury of eight men and three women. The jury is expected to begin deliberating Friday afternoon.

The twilight of the trial brought charges and counter charges between both sides' lawyers. Leo Bearman, who represents Medtronic, claims that Michelson "wants to destroy this company, which has 1,200 employees in Memphis," according to the Star Tribune.

Medtronic sued Michelson in 2001, claiming that he tried to peddle his spinal fusion technology to competitors -- even though his contracts had a noncompete clause prohibiting him from doing so. Michelson's attorneys say that the company doesn't own the doctor's "life's work," and that he was free to market his other inventions to Medtronic rivals.

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