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January 3, 2012 10:18 AM

FDA OKs Vioguard's germ-killing keyboard

Posted by Brier Dudley

Patience may finally pay off for Kirkland startup Vioguard, which received FDA approval for a germ-killing keyboard that it began developing in 2008.

The company -- started by a former Microsoft hardware executive -- waited more than a year to get approval for the device to be used in medical facilities where shared keyboards can harbor all sorts of pathogens.

Vioguard's keyboard retracts, when not in use, into a case where germicidal ultraviolet lights kill microorganisms including influenza and MRSA.

In June, the American Journal of Infection Control published a study of the effectiveness of ultraviolet light-sanitized keyboards in a pediatric hospital. It found the approach to disinfection was 67 percent effective in eliminating bacterial infection.

(Update: Co-founder John Sharps said the devices are 99.99 percent effective at reducing bacterial contamination when they're run through a disinfection cycle - "the FDA would not have approved the device otherwise." He said the clinical trial tested three keyboards that had been used and were swabbed prior to being disinfected.)

A patent and the FDA approval were both issued last month, and Vioguard is now looking for investors to help launch the product. It employs about 5 people plus contractors.

"We are going to have to have a very large strategic patner to manufacture," said chief executive and co-founder, Larry Ranta.

Ranta said Vioguard has talked to Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which could potentially manufacture and distribute the keyboards.

The devices may cost $499 to $699, although very large volumes could bring the price down to $299, Ranta said.

The FDA initially categorized Vioguard's keyboard as a "Class III" device in the same category as critical, life-sustaining or supporting devices such as pacemakers. Vioguard appealed in 2010 and finally received approval under the less critical "Class II" category, which includes devices such as wheelchairs and pregnancy test kits.

The FDA's Dec. 20 approval letter said the agency determined that the keyboard can be used in healthcare settings to reduce microbial populations typically found on a keyboard.

Founder and chief technical officer, Craig Ranta (Larry Ranta's nephew), has a long history with Seattle-area hardware companies.

The University of Washington electrical engineering grad was previously senior director of hardware development at Microsoft, where he was a director on the Surface computing project and Xbox wireless test director. Earlier he was lead engineer for Intermec and SpaceLabs Medical.

Here are images from its patent:



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