FACT CHECK: Did An Italian Company Threaten To Sue Two Men For 3D Printing Valves For A Respiratory Device?

Elias Atienza | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook claims a company is threatening to sue Italians who 3D printed patented valves for ventilators used to treat coronavirus patients.

Verdict: False

Both of the men, as well as the managing director of the company, have confirmed that there was no threat of a lawsuit for 3D printing the valves.

Fact Check:

Two Italians, Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli of the startup Isinnova, used their 3D printer to make respiratory valves, after a hospital near them began running low on the part and was unable to get more from the manufacturer, which was facing its own shortage, according to Business Insider.

The viral image alleges that Intersurgical, the company that makes the valves, threatened to sue them for reverse engineering and 3D printing the patented valve. It also claims that the valves cost approximately $11,000.

“Italians Found Way to 3-D Print Key Ventilator Piece for $1 to Help Battle Coronavirus,” reads the main text, which is also the headline from a March 18 Common Dreams article. “So The Company is Threatening To Sue.” (RELATED: Does This Video Show A Dolphin Swimming In A Venice Canal During The Coronavirus Pandemic?) 

These claims, however, are not true. While Intersurgical did refuse Fracassi and Romaioli the patented schematics for the valve, the company did not threaten legal action. Romaioli confirmed in an interview with The Verge that there was no threat of a lawsuit.

“I talked to an operator who told me he couldn’t give me the files, but after that we didn’t receive anything from the original company — so I can assure you we didn’t get any threat,” Romaioli told The Verge. “They said they couldn’t give us the file because it’s company property, but that’s all.”

Intersurgical Managing Director Charles Bellm also said in a statement to The Verge that the reports of threatened legal action were “totally incorrect.” He debunked the claim that the valves cost $11,000, as well.

“Just to confirm that recent reports from Italy are totally incorrect, we were contacted at the end of last week for manufacturing details of a valve accessory but could not supply these due to medical manufacturing regulations, we have categorically not threatened to sue anyone involved,” Bellm said. “The valve is an accessory supplied as part of a CPAP Hood system which alone costs a few euros.”

Massimo Temporelli, the physicist who recruited the pair to 3D print the valves, was quoted during an interview with Business Insider Italia as saying that the device maker threatened then with an infringement claim. The Facebook post’s claim appears to have stemmed that comment.

But the physicist, who wasn’t directly involved in Fracassi and Romaioli’s call with Intersurgical, offered a different account in a later interview with The Verge, saying, “Let’s say the risk to be sued exists since they bypassed a patent, but that’s it.”

Italy has been hit hard by the new coronavirus, with more than 105,700 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 12,428 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University live map.

Elias Atienza

Fact Check Reporter
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