A medical waste disposal container company has asked a Chicago federal judge to stem the spread of a medical study on hospital bacterial infection rates, which the company has alleged is specious, yet is being used by a competitor to infect the reputation of the company’s products.
Daniels Sharpsmart Inc. filed a three-count suit Oct. 29 alleging competitor Becton, Dickinson and Company Inc. violated the federal Lanham Act and the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, as well as engaged in unfair competition under Illinois common law.
Daniels is incorporated in Delaware, with its main office in Chicago. Becton is incorporated in New Jersey, with its main office in Franklin Lakes, N.J.
Both companies design, make and market container systems for the disposal of sharp medical waste, such as syringes, blood collection devices and intravenous needles. The containers are known as “sharps” containers and come in two types – reusable and disposable. Daniels sells reusable containers, while Becton sells disposables.
Daniels said it is one of a handful of companies in the world that deals in reusables, making its name synonymous among medical facilities with reusable containers. Competition between companies is “fierce,” according to Daniels, with reusable companies having gained more of the market in recent years.
To reverse that trend, Daniels alleged the defendants hired Monika Pogorzelska-Maziarz, Ph.D, in 2013 to conduct what they alleged was a sham study, the intent of which was to link reusable containers, such as those sold by Daniels, to higher rates of Clostridum difficile, or C.diff, bacterial infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, C.diff bacteria is a “healthcare-associated infection” which is largely spread among patients in hospitals. As recently as 2011, the disease infected about half a million annually, and about 5-6 percent of those infected died within 30 days of the initial diagnosis, the CDC reported.
For the study, Pogorzelska-Masiarz asked 1,900 hospitals what type of containers they used. After receiving responses from 604 hospitals, the study then purported to link this data to the hospitals’ C.diff infection rates. Daniels claimed this data skimmed the surface and was far too limited from which to derive conclusions as to why the bacteria may proliferate. Nonetheless, while conceding more research was needed, Pogorzelska-Masiarz credited the lower infection rates to disposable sharps containers, and inferred reusable containers were linked to higher C.diff infection rates.
Daniels said the study overlooked any number of factors that could determine infection rates, with “user error” often to blame, as containers can breed bacteria when they are not kept dry and clean.
At any rate, Becton circulated the study throughout the healthcare industry, which included disseminating it at a major conference of healthcare professionals, the complaint stated. Becton also cited the study in marketing materials distributed to Daniels’ clients, exclaiming in print, “Concerns about reusable sharps collectors are not new!” Also referenced in the court filing was a similar study from 2007, which Daniels said has since been “debunked” as having any tie to its containers.
Daniels claimed Becton next caused an article, “The Relationship between Different Types of Sharps Containers and C. diff Infection Rates in Acute Care Hospitals,” to be drawn from the study and published in summer 2015 in the American Journal of Infection Control. Daniels asserted that besides the article’s content, the title alone “passes off as a fact” a relationship between types of containers and spread of the infection.
Daniels alleged the supposed study was a marketing tool, concealed as a work of science, to falsely tarnish the prestige of Daniels’ products. The study, such as it was, was not only flawed, it was dirty pool, according to Daniels.
“There is a proper way to compete, using fair trade practices, and there are improper ways. In this instance, BD (Becton Dickinson ) elected to pursue the improper way,” Daniels alleged.
Daniels pointed out it demanded Becton both retract the study and block publication of the journal article, but the company refused on both counts.
As a consequence of the study, Daniels said it has spent “considerable” money in damage control and has gone without revenue from customers hesitating to enter or renew contracts.
In addition to financial damages, Daniels has asked the judge to prohibit Becton from further using the study, unless the company should stress the study has nothing to do with Daniels' products.
The Chicago firm of Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC is representing Daniels.