Domestic and Global Contexts
- Elgar Law and Entrepreneurship series
Edited by Lynda J. Oswald and Marisa Anne Pagnattaro
Chapter 2: Employee-created health care innovation at a crossroads
In early 2012, Dr. Joseph Grocela, an urologist employed by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), invented a device for voice training that helps a musician harmonize and a singer to sing notes with more tonal precision. Another use of the same device is to enable mute patients, such as people who have had a laryngectomy (a surgical removal of the larynx or voice box) to phonate. Dr. Grocela conceived of the “voice box invention” outside the hospital, on his own time, at his own expense, and the device is unrelated to the practice of urology. However, MGH and its corporate parent, Partners HealthCare System, claimed ownership over the invention because Dr. Grocela signed an intellectual property agreement with the hospital that included an assignment of future inventions. The court ruled the intellectual property agreement valid as to Dr. Grocela’s voice box invention despite the lack of connection between the invention and Dr. Grocela’s specialty or the use of any hospital resources. The court reasoned that the free sharing of staff inventions benefited the patient population served by MGH and that Dr. Grocela received adequate compensation from the hospital and reaped the rewards of clinical resources, office space, access to patients and “professional prestige. Understanding innovation and, in particular, what motivates innovation in health care is increasingly important. Companies in the United States employing engineers and scientists require them, nearly universally, to assign their inventions to their employer.
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