27/08/2002 - 22:00

An eye for an eye in laser standoff

27/08/2002 - 22:00


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TWO Perth technology companies have more in common than racing each other to be the world leader in refractive laser eye surgery.

An eye for an eye in laser standoff

TWO Perth technology companies have more in common than racing each other to be the world leader in refractive laser eye surgery.

Research by WA Business News has found that former market darling Q-Vis and new kid on the block CustomVis have recently gone to the market seeking millions of dollars of funding and both appear to have used the services of the same US expert, Dr Jon Dishler in Chicago.

Perhaps the strongest thread is CustomVis founder Dr Paul van Saarloos, a scientist who used to run Q-Vis, and who has become embroiled in a legal wrangle with his former employer following his departure almost two years ago.

While these two eye groups may have a similar focus, those involved claim there are differences in the operation of the technology.

Linked to Kerry Packer, Q-Vis Ltd has developed a solid-state refractive laser that, the company says, offers significant advantages over the traditional excimer (argon gas-based) laser. Q-Vis is currently designing an eye-tracking device to complement the laser treatment.

Q-Vis director Professor Ian Constable performed the first laser vision correction (LVC) procedure in Australia in 1991 using an excimer laser prototype developed at the Lions Eye Institute (LEI).

The LEI, which already had a substantial shareholding in Q-Vis – as does Professor Constable’s family company Hyphema Pty Ltd – was this month issued with $2 million worth of Converting Preference Shares. Without LEI’s investment, and with just $1.2 million in the bank, Q-Vis’s cash expenditure rate would have kept it operating until September only – following the failure of a $8.2 million rights issue.

When Q-Vis listed on the stock exchange, it was led by Dr van Saarloos, who had been with the company – which has traded under numerous different names – since December 1993.

Dr van Saarloos resigned from the company in November 2000 – an event that prompted Q-Vis to reassure its investors that his contract “was governed by very strong confidentiality, intellectual property and non-solicitation rights which are designed to protect the company’s business prospects in the highly competitive markets of the United States and Europe”.

The second refractive-laser company, CustomVis, aims to develop and commercialise solid-state refractive lasers and eye tracking technologies under the direction of CEO and chief scientist Dr van Saarloos.

CustomVis is the trading name of CLVR Pty Ltd, a company with three directors – Dr van Saarloos, wife Jennifer, and CustomVis’s president and CFO, Dr William Ardrey.

CLVR was registered in March 2001, exactly four months after Dr van Saarloos left Q-Vis. Dr and Mrs van Saarloos currently hold about 1.2 million Q-Vis shares in their own names, having sold about one million shares after a Q-Vis general meeting on August 12.

Like Q-Vis, CustomVis has also been in the market for funding, claiming to be close to raising $10 million from investors.

On January 31, Q-Vis lodged a writ against Dr van Saarloos claiming he had breached his employment contract with the company.

Q-Vis has claimed damages in that respect and, alternatively, for the loss of its former CEO’s services, which it valued at $300,000 for 20 months’ salary, and 945,000 stock options in Q-Vis.

Q-Vis general manager Simon Martin was not prepared to discuss the company’s activities because Q-Vis was preparing its annual report.


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