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As an A&E consultant in Barcelona, Dr Zoraida Fontanilla identified an unmet need for improved methods of intubating patients which were quicker, simpler and less intrusive than existing methods.  Having invented a device which allows patients to be intubated more easily, she contacted Schlich in 2020 for assistance in how to protect her new invention.

During her role as an A&E consultant in Barcelona, Dr Zoraida Fontanilla identified a series of issues with conventional airway management devices, which supply oxygen and other important gases to unconscious patients.

Infraglottic airway devices deliver air and gases directly into the patient’s trachea and are the preferred way to secure and manage a patient’s airway. The devices typically take the form of flexible tubes that are inserted into the patient’s trachea and through which oxygen, anaesthetics or other drugs can be administered. The process of inserting these devices, tracheal intubation, is frequently performed in critically injured, ill or anaesthetized patients in order to facilitate ventilation of the lungs.

These devices can be tricky and time-consuming to secure within a patient. They also typically require laryngoscopes (for example, laryngoscopic blades) for insertion. These laryngoscopes are used to open up the airway and allow the medical professional to visualise the airway so that the tracheal tube can be directed into the trachea. As laryngoscopes are often large in shape and made of stainless steel, in some circumstances, they can cause damage to the patient’s mouth or teeth during use. In addition, tracheal intubation must often be performed by a highly skilled and well-trained medical professional and even for these professionals, intubation may take up to a few minutes. In the case when an airway is blocked, time is critical and it is therefore important to insert an airway device quickly and accurately.

Dr Fontanilla’s first-hand experiences of the problems associated with tracheal intubation led her to develop a device that allows for easier intubation of patients. Dr Fontanilla’s invention is effectively a guide which is inserted into the patient’s throat and allows an infraglottic device to be inserted quickly, easily and accurately. The invention also avoids the use of laryngoscopic blades.

In January 2020, she contacted Schlich for assistance in filing a UK patent application to protect her new invention. Following a meeting at our offices, where she showed her invention and its advantages over the conventional intubation techniques, a UK patent application was prepared and filed in March 2020 in the name of her limited company, Alfen Medical Devices Development Ltd.

Shortly after the filing of the UK patent application, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK. Although this caused some delays in the development of the device, it did further highlight the need for improved methods of airway management in critical patients.

In March 2021, an International patent application was filed under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). The filing of the PCT application provided Dr Fontanilla with a further 18 months to decide in which countries she would ultimately like to apply for patent protection. The PCT system also provided an opportunity to receive feedback from the European Patent Office regarding the patentability of her invention. Dr Fontailla made use of the optional International Preliminary Examination route in order to have the opportunity to present arguments and amendments on the International application to the European Patent Office Examiner. A result of this was a positive “International Preliminary Report on Patentability”, which states that the opinion of the European Patent Office is that her invention is patentable.

The UK and International patent applications owned by Alfen Medical Devices Development Ltd have been published under publication numbers GB 2592643 & WO 2021/175991.

Schlich has also assisted Dr Fontanilla in securing registration for the trade mark ALFEN® covering medical instruments, apparatuses and devices (UK trade mark registration no. 3464211)

The International patent application has recently been converted into national/regional phase patent applications in the countries of interest and examination of the UK patent application is expected to take place within the next few months too. It is expected that the positive International Preliminary Report on Patentability will streamline examination of the patent applications in other jurisdictions. On the clinical side, Dr Fontanilla is now in the process of arranging for human clinical trials of her invention to allow for it to be used in real-world hospital environments. We hope that in the coming years Dr Fontanilla’s revolutionary invention will be a staple and essential tool for medical professionals in hospitals throughout the country and beyond.

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