Development of new products
The market offers exciting opportunities for new customer groups and new solution formats. Our consistent platform approach to product development in hearing instruments and cochlear implants – along with our continued high investment in research and development – has allowed us to expand our product offering over the year to exploit these opportunities.
Our goal is to continue to offer the broadest range of technologically advanced hearing solutions to our customers by substantially investing in R&D and by applying for a minimum of 40 patents each year. In 2018/19, 81 new patent applications were filed across the Sonova Group. As of March 2018/19, the Sonova Group owned over 1,600 active granted patent and design rights.
Innovation through collaboration
At Sonova, we consider interdisciplinary collaboration as the guarantor of progress. Especially when it comes to as complex a subject as hearing. One key area of our innovation strategy therefore lies in establishing and promoting international networks where the specific knowledge of leading research bodies, hospitals, companies and institutions is pooled together, enriched and comes to fruition in new hearing solutions.
Long-term partnership and open exchange are the hallmarks of our collaboration with around fifty top-class universities and centers of excellence and technology. The focus of this interdisciplinary work is to leverage all potential for innovation: Together, we are broadening our understanding of auditory perception and its cognitive processing, driving forward digital signal processing and the miniaturization of electronics, improving material and implantation technologies and researching the possibilities of bionics. We work especially closely with the international groups of experts from the Pediatric Advisory Board to develop hearing solutions that counteract hearing loss in early childhood and at the same time include and support the entire family.
Below we outline two examples of collaborations on research with top-class universities on broader topics such as impact on quality of life or healthy aging.
Today we put hearing loss in a very different context than in the past. We study how hearing loss impacts quality of life beyond not-hearing or not understanding speech. Hearing loss impacts social interaction and participation, reduces activities of daily living, and impacts emotional vitality. With two academic institutions, Ryerson University in Toronto and Vanderbilt University in London Ontario, we recently conducted work showing how hearing loss affects perception of emotional content of spoken language. This work will help us to better understand the needs of hearing impaired people, improve our technology development and help us to better counsel our customers and their families.
In recent years several large cohort longitudinal studies have shown that the occurrence of hearing loss is strongly correlated with other health considerations in elderly people. In this research theme we have been studying various comorbidities between hearing loss and health issues such as psycho-social-health, depression, arthritis, cognitive decline, risk of falls and diabetes in collaboration with the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam (Netherlands). This research will provide us with a new, more holistic perspective of hearing health care in the broader context of healthy aging. Currently, Sonova supports two major studies investigating whether or not hearing instruments can help slow down cognitive decline or not. The studies are driven by Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore and The University of Melbourne in Melbourne.
The digital revolution and the Internet of Things are making their way into various aspects of our lives. New, web-based business models are questioning the status quo because they promise more convenience, simplicity and freedom with smart technologies and services. We welcome this development, since maximum comfort and autonomy for the user, as well as flawless service, are also our key areas of innovation.
Digital technology and connectivity make Sonova hearing solutions smart companions. Their sophistication is not just in terms of sound resolution and quality, speech intelligibility, form factor, or design – but also functionality: the hearing aid connects wirelessly to media players of all kinds. Music, TV sound, or phone calls can be enjoyed in excellent quality directly within the ear. Thanks to a discreet Bluetooth®1 microphone, hearing aid wearers can follow conversations even in noisy environments – in some cases better than a person without hearing loss. And a smartphone app lets the wearer control parameters and functions intuitively and individually.
- The Bluetooth® word mark and logos are registered trademarks owned by the Bluetooth SIG, Inc.
eSolutions for the future
Improving audiological quality and ease of operation is one thing; multiplying opportunities through networking is another: Our solutions go far beyond the individual hearing instrument, creating a digital experience that brings together, empowers, and supports the healthcare provider and the user, seamlessly and in real time, through all stages of the hearing journey. From online-based histories and customer support to remote adjustment and optimization under real-life conditions, digitally networked solutions offer users a previously undreamed-of degree of control and freedom. Wherever users might be, their audiologist can be by their side online, directly capturing data on the specific audiological situation and providing immediate assistance. Continuous data monitoring and statistical analysis of listening situations allow ever more user-specific fine tuning, as well as more targeted advice. Follow-up appointments are a thing of the past, spatial distance is no longer an issue: professional and personal assistance, as well as effortless instrument adjustment by the user, are only a screen tap away. People with hearing loss can enjoy complete autonomy in a fully networked world of hearing. Our promise is to use and further expand these digital channels to establish one-to-one, real-time relationships with our customers.
Regulatory and standards
Sonova’s medical devices are regulated by government agencies, healthcare authorities, and other regulatory bodies worldwide. These organizations verify that throughout the life cycle of our products we are fulfilling the requirements of applicable health and safety regulations. We are committed to maintaining transparent, constructive, and professional relationships with all applicable regulatory authorities on policy, product submissions, compliance, and product performance. Their requirements include design controls, marketing approvals, good manufacturing practices, vigilance systems, clinical studies, and other applicable product regulations, standards and normative documents specified by government agencies.
Our processes for identifying potential risks related to our products – and for estimating, evaluating, controlling, and monitoring these risks – are governed by the ISO 14971 standard, which specifies the application of risk management to medical devices. Initial training programs and maintenance training programs ensure the adequate training and qualification regarding the regulatory and statutory requirements.
Each national healthcare authority has specific requirements for products that are offered in its market which need to be respected e.g. in Europe our hearing instruments comply with the essential requirements and other relevant provisions of the Medical Device Directive 93/42/EEC, the Radio Equipment Directive 2014/53/EU and other applicable international standards. In the US, hearing instruments are regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and classified as medical devices of the class I (hearing aids) and class II (wireless hearing aids). Both categories are exempt from the Premarket Approval (PMA) and Premarket Notification (PMN) known as 510(k) and can be introduced into commercial distribution without undergoing these processes.
Cochlear implants and their respective accessories from Advanced Bionics are classified as active implantable medical devices (Class III-AIMD), which are regulated by the EU Active Implantable Medical Devices Directive 90/385/EEC and must generally undergo a formal PMA process wherever they are launched.
All our operation centers and major group companies are certified according to the ISO 13485 standard and fulfill the requirements for quality management systems of the US FDA Quality System Regulation, Title 21 CFR Part 820.
Sonova is carefully following the changes in the related regulatory environments worldwide to ensure the conformity of the products to any time; in particular recently published changes in medical device regulation in Europe regarding the transition from Medical Devices Directive 93/42/EEC to Medical Devices Regulation 2017/745.
Product service and labeling
The majority of products from Sonova group companies are covered by these regulations, standards, and medical classes. All of these products are continuously assessed for health and safety improvements, using such tools as our complaint handling system and process, post-market surveillance, vigilance reporting, reliability trending, and post-launch engineering.