Patents related to PX-UV, an R2-D2 look-alike robot that may disinfect public spaces from SARS-CoV-2

Texas-based company Xenex Disinfection Services, a manufacturer of robots that reportedly removes the SARS-CoV-2 virus from public spaces, has been making news lately. One of their robots, which uses ultraviolet lights to kill viruses and bacteria in surfaces and look a lot like R2-D2, have been featured in media reports in the U.S. and abroad this week.

Studies have suggested that SARS-CoV-2 can survive for hours to days on surface. Ultraviolet light is an effective disinfectant that has been used for decades in healthcare and other settings to inactivate pathogens. A group of researchers in the U.S. recently tested whether one of the pulsed xenon ultraviolet (PX-UV) devices manufactured by Xenex is effective in reducing SARS-CoV-2 on hard surfaces and N95 masks. In a preprint article circulated this week, which acknowledges funding from Xenex Disinfection Services, they report that the device “can effectively reduce the viable load of SARS-CoV-2 in a laboratory setting on both chamber slides and N95 respirators.” Considering this, it is worth exploring the patent landscape of PX-UV robots made by Xenex.

KEI searched for all issued U.S. patents assigned to Xenex Disinfection Services. We found 24 patents assigned to this company, with a priority date between 2011 and 2016. Most are directed to apparatus or methods for ultraviolet disinfection, but the company also have four patents related to smoke detectors and two about blackout curtains.

The list of U.S. patents assigned to Xenex Disinfection Services is available here.

For illustration, the first claim of U.S. patent 10,335,506 is directed to an apparatus comprised by a germicidal lamp, a mobile carriage, and a “reflector system arranged in the apparatus such that ultraviolet light emitted from the germicidal lamp is projected to a region exterior to the apparatus between approximately 2 feet and approximately 4 feet from a floor of a room in which the apparatus is arranged.” Xenex states in their website that this patent covers three of their PX-UV robot models. The first claim of U.S. patent 10,245,340 is directed to a apparatus with a duration circuitry “configured to discharge a set amount of stored energy in a set amount of time such that energy flux of ultraviolet light in the wavelength range between 200 nm and 320 nm generated at the germicidal pulsed light source is between approximately 20 J/m.sup.2 and approximately 1000 J/m.sup.2.” Xenex says that this patent covers three of their robots.

Xenex Disinfection Services will not necessarily be able to block competitors with these patents. As of today, 100 patents have been issued in the U.S. that cite the terms “ultraviolet light” and “disinfection” in any of the claims. There are also other incumbents and potential new entrants in the ultraviolet disinfection market, which appears to be a billion dollar industry. Notably, Amazon announced that they are developing a robot based on this technology too. Also, several of the patents assigned to Xenex Disinfection Services have been filed in the U.S. but not in other countries.

Nevertheless, it seems important to keep an eye on whether and how Xenex asserts their patents, particularly if ultraviolet disinfection gains relevance as a tool against COVID-19.