A state superior court judge has thrown out a complaint lodged by a Massachusetts General Hospital urologist who challenged the Harvard teaching hospital’s policy denying him rights to inventions he discovered on his own time at home.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Peter M. Lauriat granted a motion by Mass General and its corporate parent, Partners HealthCare System Inc., to dismiss Dr. Joseph A. Grocela’s lawsuit, ruling that the Partners policy for handling intellectual property was reasonable and part of the bargain that physicians routinely accept to work at the Boston hospital.
“Nothing prohibits Dr. Grocela from practicing medicine either in Massachusetts or elsewhere,” the judge wrote in a summary judgment. “That he would lose his privileges at MGH and Partners affiliates should he refuse to be bound by the terms of the policy is immaterial.
“As a member of the staff, he reaps the benefit of the clinical resources, office space, access to doctor-patient relationships, and professional prestige available to a physician who practices at one of this country’s major teaching hospitals,” Lauriat wrote. “In return, he has agreed to contribute to the research and educational objectives of the urology department. This kind of quid pro quo underlies almost every professional association.”
Grocela, a urological surgeon who also teaches at Harvard Medical School, has tinkered in the basement of his home in Weston for the past decade, coming up with inventions that range from urological devices to a voice box for the tone deaf.
In his suit, Grocela said he was told by Frances Toneguzzo, the top Partners licensing official, that Mass. General “trained you, we pay you, we own your brain, and therefore all your ideas.” Partners disputed that Toneguzzo made such a statement.
Grocela said Thursday he was surprised by the ruling, but was unsure if he would appeal.
“Although they deny it, as far as I can tell, they actually do own my brain,” Grocela said.
His lawyer, Richard A. Goren, said the case has “far-reaching implications” by holding that Partners owns any inventions doctors conceive using knowledge acquired over decades of association with one of its hospitals. Goren had argued the Partners policy couldn’t be enforced under state law if it prevents competition.
“It is immaterial, according to this decision, that the urological surgeon is not paid to invent, that his contract permits moonlighting even in a competitive inventions business, and that his music box invention has nothing to do with urology,” Goren said. “But all inventions rest on the shoulders of the inventor’s prior knowledge and experience.”
Goren said the judge “did not address how claiming ownership of a physician’s general knowledge and experience advances any conceivably legitimate interest consistent with fundamental public policy against restraints on competition.”
Rich Copp, vice president at Boston-based Partners, declined to comment on the ruling.
In addition to the intellectual property dispute, Grocela’s complaint alleged the Partners research division violated his privacy by sharing with outside parties personal medical information he had divulged to Partners officials in the course of briefing them about his work.
Lauriat’s decision said that allegation was insufficient, noting that Grocela chose to disclose his medical condition on invention disclosure forms even though Mass. General did not require it. It also said, “MGH has a legitimate and reasonable business interest in maintaining and sharing information regarding staff inventions with a limited group of personnel and lawyers” to further research and support inventions.