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Invisalign dispute disrupts orthodontists’ workflow

January 16, 2018

By David Burger

Atlanta — Dr. Susan Podray, an orthodontist in the suburbs of Atlanta, feels like she and her patients are “caught between two companies.”

Dr. Podray, like many of her counterparts, uses 3Shapes’ TRIOS scanners for use in clear aligner Invisalign treatment.

But her practice received a disturbing notice in late December. Align, the designer and manufacturer of the Invisalign system and iTero intraoral scanners, announced that it was terminating its Invisalign interoperability contract with 3Shape and would no longer accept digital scans for new Invisalign treatment from TRIOS scanners, effective Jan. 17. Align later changed the date to Jan. 31. 

“We were all shocked by the short notice,” Dr. Podray said. She added that it felt to her like “patient abandonment.”

Align stated it made the decision because it has launched lawsuits against 3Shape. On Nov. 14, it filed six patent infringement lawsuits asserting 26 patents against 3Shape asserting that 3Shape's TRIOS intraoral scanning system and Dental System software infringe Align patents. 

"We understand that the termination of interoperability and discontinuance of accepting digital scans for Invisalign treatment and/or retention cases through TRIOS scanners will inconvenience our customers and we wish it could have been avoided,” said Roger E. George, vice president, legal affairs and general counsel for Align Technology, in a news release from Align. “We have reached out to affected practices and are working to help minimize any disruption. The last thing we want is to impact our customers and their practices. However, Align will not allow competitors to copy our products and their features or infringe our patents, nor can we continue to accept scans from U.S.-based TRIOS scanners that infringe our patents. We will vigorously defend our intellectual property, whether it relates to clear aligners, dental scanners or digital dentistry more broadly."

The release added that providers who need to submit additional TRIOS scans for existing Invisalign cases for refinement or additional aligners will still be able to do so, In addition, because the current lawsuits involve only U.S. patents, this litigation does not affect non-U.S. Invisalign customers.

The news release said that the iTero scanner, the Sirona Cerec Omnicam and 3M True Definition scanner can all be used for the Invisalign workflow.

In response, 3Shape responded on its website that it was “dismayed to learn" that Align Technology had terminated the contract, saying the decision came "despite the fact that the interoperability has absolutely no legal link to the patent infringement allegations against 3Shape, which are completely unfounded and without merit."

3Shape’s statement continued: “We have been selling dental scanners since 2005 and the patented TRIOS intraoral scanning technologies since 2011. Because we’re innovators, we have the utmost respect for others’ patents and intellectual property. After all, it is our ability to create exciting new technologies that has made 3Shape a leader in the industry. This is supported by our more than 80 patent families.”

3Shape has established a special website and hotline for 3Shape TRIOS users who have been impaired by Align’s decision to terminate TRIOS interoperability: https://www.3shape.com/clear-aligners.

The American Association of Orthodontists worked with Align following the announcement to accommodate affected orthodontists, the association said in a statement.

Align is offering eligible Invisalign practices a 50-percent discount on the iTero Element Scanner until Feb. 28, said Shirley Stacy, vice president, corporate and investor communications for Align, in an interview with ADA News. The $14,999 discounted price includes a one-year subscription and services and a discount on Invisalign Full, Teen, and Assist PVS submitted cases through April 30. “We encourage all affected customers with questions to contact their local Invisalign or iTero representative,” Ms. Stacy said.

At least one clear aligner competitor has jumped in during the controversy. ClearCorrect, another provider of clear aligners, announced Dec. 22 that it was offering a special one-time offer for all 3Shape TRIOS users in the U.S. The offer, consisting of four clear aligner treatments, based on TRIOS scans, would result in a discount of 50 percent. 3Shape’s press release about the offer states, “ClearCorrect’s value-packed offer follows the recent termination of Invisalign interoperability with 3Shape TRIOS scans. ClearCorrect and 3Shape have worked together to make this unique offer for the many doctors and patients seeking to change their clear aligner treatment provider following Align’s sudden decision. 3Shape and ClearCorrect are committed to helping doctors and their patients continue clear aligner treatments despite the predicament Align Technology placed them in with very short notice.”

In the end, Dr. Podray took advantage of Align’s offer and purchased an iTero scanner for $14,999, but acknowledged that as a small business owner, it is a significant new cost to bear and that “not everyone can afford two scanners.”