Electronics giant Philips accuses a Seattle-area medical device repair and service company of hacking into its imaging machines and stealing trade secrets in a lawsuit filed this week, pitting the Netherlands-based corporation against a 13-year-old startup.
Philips alleges Woodinville, Wash.-based Summit Imaging built software designed to hack into ultrasound machines and other devices to get around stringent access controls that regulate how the hardware can be used. Summit markets its software to customers — hospitals, healthcare networks, clinics, manufacturers and more — as a legal way to get around restrictions companies like Philips put on their devices, according to the lawsuit.
“Summit is making a profit at the expense of Philips by offering consumers the ability to make unlicensed use of Philips software, by hacking Philips software to enable unlicensed features that consumers would otherwise have to purchase separately from Philips,” according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle. “Summit then sells these services in direct competition with Philips, at a discount, and is therefore making these unauthorized changes for commercial gain.”
Philips requires customers to buy additional software to make different devices — such as an ultrasound machine and a transducer — work together. Summit allegedly gets around that by copying the necessary software and installing it on hacked devices, making it possible for them to work with other hardware.
The lawsuit explicitly calls out Summit CEO Lawrence Nguyen as personally directing and building the alleged hacking tools and pushing the marketing strategies. Nguyen, according to his LinkedIn profile, worked at Microsoft and AT&T in the Seattle area before founding Summit more than a decade ago.
“We are in receipt of the complaint and are reviewing it,” the company said in an emailed statement to GeekWire.
Philips believes Summit has obtained proprietary tools loaded with trade secrets that have never been distributed outside the company. Philips accuses Summit of misappropriating trade secrets, false advertising, modifying copyrighted materials, and more in the lawsuit.
Philips is seeking the return of its trade secrets, damages, and an order barring Summit from using tools that skirt its hardware controls.
Summit offers repair and training services on Philips devices. Once it has the hardware, Philips alleges, Summit uses its Adepto software to bypass restrictions and alter software on the device.
“To make use of the Adepto hacking tool, Summit and Summit customers physically remove the hard drive from the Ultrasound System; the removed hard drive is then attached to a separate computer where the Adepto hacking tool runs; the Adepto hacking tool bypasses Philips software access controls and accesses the removed hard drive,” the suit alleges.
Philips is a $34 billion company known for all varieties of electronics. It makes everything from smart TVs to electric toothbrushes.
The company’s healthcare division has an office in Bothell, Wash., just a few miles away from Summit Imaging. Philips calls itself a leader in the development, manufacturing, and selling of medical imaging equipment to hospitals and medical centers.
Seattle is a burgeoning healthcare and life sciences hub, and it has long been a leader in the development of ultrasound technology. The region played an instrumental role in the revolution to make ultrasounds portable with Bothell-based SonoSite, which was acquired by Fujifilm in 2011, releasing the groundbreaking battery-powered ultrasound machine in the late 1990s. Decades later, the Pacific Northwest remains a hotbed for handheld ultrasound developers such as Philips, SonoSite and Vancouver, B.C.-based Clarius.
Last month, SonoSite teamed up with the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence to train AI to interpret ultrasound images. The idea is that computers can be trained to identify and label critical pieces of a medical image to help clinicians get answers without the need for specially-trained radiologists.
See the full suit below.