Debunked Blood-Testing Startup Theranos Is Still Getting Patents From Federal Agency

Theranos' market valuation reached $9 billion at its peak.

Theranos’ market valuation reached $9 billion at its peak. Lisa Lake/Getty Images

Elizabeth Holmes’ blood-testing startup Theranos, once hailed as a true innovation in health care with a peak valuation of $9 billion, quietly shut down last September when its technology was debunked after years of fraud and false advertising. But the now-defunct company isn’t completely dead, it seems, as the federal government continues to sign off on its patent applications related to blood-testing technology.

In 2019 so far, Theranos has been awarded five patents, according to private tech market research firm CB Insights. All of these patents were filed between 2015 and 2016, around the time when questions on Theranos’ blood-testing technology first surfaced.

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The two most recently approved patents (in April) described a system that aims to improve upon the “conventional collection and testing techniques of bodily fluid samples” and the transportation of such samples. In plain words, the patented technology will enable the collection of a smaller volume of blood than allowed by current methods of testing.

In addition, a pair of patents awarded in March described a system that uses sonication technology (applying sound energy to agitate particles) to extract and disrupt various particles in a blood sample.

And the last patent was awarded to a method that aims to speed up the process of measuring the rate at which red blood cells sediment. This measurement, typically taking one hour to operate by conventional methods, is a common hematology test and a non-specific measure of inflammation.

These five patents were added to Therano’s portfolio of more than 70 patents it has obtained since 2003, the year of its founding. Amid the debunking of Theranos’ fraud scheme in 2015 and 2016, some critics called out the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the federal agency reviewing patent applications, for unintentionally endorsing the company’s dubious technology.

“[Elizabeth Holmes’] innovation—which she has patented—requires the patient to surrender a mere drop of blood, and that small sample is then used for numerous experiments. It’s no surprise that the company she founded on this technology is thriving,” USPTO’s former director Michelle K. Lee said during a public address in Beijing, China in May 2015.

Five months later, a bombshell piece by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou openly questioned the accuracy of Therano’s blood-testing results, which subsequently invoked an SEC probe into the company and Holmes. Carryrou later chronicled his months-long investigation into Theranos in his 2018 best seller,Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.

Lee resigned from her USPTO post in June 2017 for unspecified reasons and was succeeded by Andrei Iancu, a former intellectual property lawyer, two months later.

USPTO hasn’t responded to Observer’s request for comment about the recently approved patents.

Debunked Blood-Testing Startup Theranos Is Still Getting Patents From Federal Agency