News Column

"Method for Reading Machine-Readable Labels" in Patent Application Approval Process

August 19, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Information Technology Newsweekly -- A patent application by the inventors CLARK, Craig B. (San Diego, CA); GILKER, John M. (San Diego, CA); HAGEN, Norbert D. (Carlsbad, CA); HORGER, Olaf (Neuenburg, DE); HORN, Tom R. (San Diego, CA); KNIGHT, Byron J. (San Diego, CA); LUKHAUB, Waldemar (Vaihingen/Enz., DE); OPALSKY, David (San Diego, CA); RHUBOTTOM, Jason F. (Oceanside, CA), filed on March 28, 2014, was made available online on August 7, 2014, according to news reporting originating from Washington, D.C., by VerticalNews correspondents.

This patent application is assigned to STRATEC Biomedical AG.

The following quote was obtained by the news editors from the background information supplied by the inventors: "This invention relates to systems, methods, and apparatus for storing and presenting sample materials for access by a sample transfer apparatus and for limiting the incidence of cross-contamination between sample-containing vessels during a sample transfer operation.

"All documents referred to herein, or the indicated portions, are hereby incorporated by reference herein. No document, however, is admitted to be prior art to the claimed subject matter.

"Analyzers for performing assays on fluid samples typically include a fluid transfer mechanism for transferring fluid sample material and other fluids between various receptacles or containers. For example, fluid sample material may be introduced into the analyzer via a sample receptacle, such as a test tube, containing an amount of the fluid sample, placed in the analyzer or in operative proximity to the analyzer. The analyzer may include an automated fluid transfer mechanism comprising a robotically-controlled pipetting device having an aspirating probe for accessing the contents of a receptacle. The probe may comprises a barrel with a protective tip (e.g., a pipette tip) mounted (e.g., frictionally) on its distal end.

"Fluid sample material is transferred from the sample receptacle by positioning the aspirating probe above the sample receptacle and then lowering the probe until a distal end of the probe is submerged in the fluid sample material held in the container. After the probe is submerged, an amount of fluid is drawn into the probe. The probe is then raised and moved to another location within the analyzer and is operatively positioned above another container (or, alternatively, the probe can be held in a fixed position and the sample receptacle and other containers can be moved relative to the probe). The sample material may be transferred to a reaction receptacle (e.g., test tube, cuvette, microtiter plate well, etc.) within which the sample material is combined with reagents and/or other reactants (and, optionally, the container and its contents may be subjected to other conditions or stimuli, such as, incubation at an elevated temperature, mixing, and/or centrifuging) to effect a transformation or chemical, biochemical or biological reaction. After the probe is positioned above the container that is to receive the sample material, some or all of the fluid is dispensed from the probe into one or more containers, moving the probe from receiving container to receiving container as necessary.

"During such a fluid transfer procedure, care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination due to spilled or misplaced sample material. For example, sample from one sample receptacle should not be mistakenly deposited into another sample receptacle containing a different sample or a sample from a different source. Similarly, no sample material should be deposited into a reaction receptacle in which such sample is not intended, for example in a reaction receptacle within which a different sample had already been dispensed.

"Fluid sample material may include, for example, urine, blood, plasma, saliva, mucus, seminal fluid, amniotic fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, and cultures. Such materials may, under certain circumstances or conditions, be characterized as having a viscous consistency. Accordingly, when the probe of a pipetting device is submerged into the sample material and is then withdrawn, the viscous or mucoid nature of the sample material may result in a string of viscous material suspended from a distal end of the probe after the probe is withdrawn from the sample receptacle. Further movement of the sample transfer probe may drag the string of viscous material along with it, thereby potentially causing cross-contamination should the string of viscous material contact or fall into another sample receptacle or reaction vessel or other contamination-sensitive surface or component within the analyzer."

In addition to the background information obtained for this patent application, VerticalNews journalists also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent application: "The present invention provides methods, systems, and apparatus for removing a string of viscous material from the probe of a fluid transfer mechanism in a controlled manner so that the string is detached from the probe in a location that is unlikely to cause cross-contamination.

"Aspects of the invention are embodied in a method for separating a viscous material suspended from a probe of an automated pipettor. The probe is lowered into a receptacle containing a viscous material through an opening formed in a cover disposed over the receptacle. At least a portion of the viscous material is drawn into the probe. The probe from is then removed from the vessel to a position above the cover, whereby a string of the viscous material is suspended from the probe. The probe is then moved laterally with respect to the opening to a position offset from the opening and adjacent a raised structure formed on the cover. Next, the probe is moved laterally along a path comprising movement in first and second directions. The transition from movement in the first direction to movement in the second direction causes the string of viscous material to contact the raised structure, and the continued movement of the probe along the path causes at least a portion of the string of viscous material to be separated from the probe.

"In one embodiment, the raised structure includes first and second upright, non-coplanar sides defining a corner at a transition therebetween, and the transition from movement in the first direction to movement in the second causes the string of viscous material to contact the corner of the raised structure.

"In one embodiment, the first and second directions are substantially at right angles to one another, and, in another embodiment, the first and second directions are not at right angles to one another.

"In one embodiment, after moving the probe laterally with respect to the opening to a position offset from the opening and adjacent the raised structure, the probe is lowered so that the distal end thereof is disposed below the top of the raised structure.

"In one embodiment, the probe comprises a barrel with a protective tip mounted on a distal end thereof.

"Further aspects of the invention are embodied in a system for transferring viscous materials. The system comprises a sample holding area, an automated pipettor, and a controller. The sample holding area is configured to receive and position a plurality of receptacles and includes a cover member having a plurality of openings through which the automated pipettor can access the receptacles positioned beneath the cover member. The openings are arranged so that each opening is associated with one of the receptacles, and a top side of the cover member includes a plurality of raised structures. Each raised structure is adjacent to one of the openings. The automated pipettor is operatively associated with the sample holding area and is configured for automated movement with respect to the sample holding area and includes a fluid transfer probe. The controller controls movement of the probe of the pipettor, and is programmed to selectively move the probe into a position aligned with one of the openings, lower the probe through the opening and into the associated receptacle below the opening, raise the probe out of the associated receptacle to a position above the cover member, move the probe laterally to a position offset from the opening and adjacent the raised structure associated with the opening with the distal end of the probe disposed below a top surface of the associated raised structure, and move the probe laterally, relative to the associated raised structure, along a path comprising movement in first and second directions, the transition from the first direction to the second direction causing the string of viscous material suspended from the probe to contact the raised structure.

"In one embodiment, the probe comprises a pipette with a protective tip mounted on a distal end thereof.

"In one embodiment, the controller is programmed to move the probe in first and second directions that are substantially at right angles to one another, and, in another embodiment, the controller is programmed to move the probe in first and second directions that are not at right angles to one another.

"In one embodiment, the controller is programmed to lower the probe after moving the probe to the position offset from the opening so that the distal end thereof is disposed below the top of the raised structure.

"In one embodiment, the plurality of openings are arranged in an array pattern of aligned rows and columns of openings.

"In one embodiment, each raised structure comprises two opposed and generally parallel sides and an end wall spanning the ends of the two sides. In another embodiment, each raised structure further comprises a raised ledge spanning ends of the two sides opposite the end wall, and the sides and the end wall are higher than the raised ledge.

"In one embodiment, each raised structure is a U-shaped structure at least partially surrounding the opening, and movement of the probe laterally with respect to the opening to a position offset from the opening comprises moving the probe through an opening defined between opposed legs of the U-shaped structure.

"In other embodiments, each raised structure may comprises a square element surrounding the opening, a triangular element surrounding the opening, or a hexagonal element surrounding the opening.

"In one embodiment, each raised structure comprises a raised surface surrounding the opening and a post projecting above the raised surface adjacent the opening.

"In one embodiment, the system further includes a cooling system constructed and arranged to maintain the sample holding area a cooler than ambient temperature.

"In one embodiment, the system further includes a label reading device constructed and arranged to a read machine readable label placed on each of said receptacles.

"In one embodiment, the label reading device comprises a barcode reader.

"In one embodiment, the system further includes one or more receptacle holders, each configured to hold a plurality of receptacles, and the sample receiving area is configured to receive said receptacle holders and includes guide structures to ensure the proper position and orientation of the receptacles carried in each rack relative to the openings formed in said cover member.

"In one embodiment, the guide structures define two or more lanes configured to receive a different one of the receptacle holders.

"In one embodiment, the raised structure comprises two generally upright, non-coplanar sides defining a corner at a transition therebetween, and the controller is programmed to selectively move the probe laterally, relative to the corner of the associated raised structure, along the path comprising movement in first and second directions, and wherein the transition from the first direction to the second direction causes the string of viscous material suspended from the probe to contact the corner of the associated raised structure

"In one embodiment, the system further includes indicator elements in communication with said controller and configured to indicate which of two or more lanes is to receive the next receptacle holder to be inserted into the sample receiving area.

"In one embodiment, the system further includes a rack sensing element configured to detect if a rack is fully inserted into the sample receiving area.

"In one embodiment, the plurality of openings are arranged in parallel rows with openings in adjacent rows being offset from one another.

"In one embodiment, the sample holding area comprises a sample bay having first and second side walls and a back wall extending between said first and second side wall, and first and second side walls and said back wall support said cover member.

"In one embodiment, the first and second side walls and said back wall are insulated.

"In one embodiment, the system further includes a floor plate with a coolant tube arranged below said floor plate and configured to carry a cooling medium for cooling said sample bay.

"Further aspects of the invention are embodied in a sample rack for carrying a plurality of receptacles, which may be of different sizes. The sample rack includes a receptacle holder and a cover configured to be releasably secured to the receptacle holder. The receptacle holder includes a plurality of receptacle-receiving pockets, a receptacle positioning feature associated with each of said receptacle-receiving pockets, and a resilient element associated with each of said receptacle-receiving pockets. Each receptacle-receiving pocket is configured to receive a receptacle, and each resilient element is configured to urge the receptacle into said positioning feature to hold the receptacle in a fixed, predetermined position within said receptacle-receiving pocket. The cover includes a transverse wall including a plurality of spaced-apart receptacle access openings formed in said transverse wall, each receptacle access opening being associated with one receptacle-receiving pocket. And the cover also includes a receptacle-retaining element associated with each receptacle-receiving pocket and configured to engage a portion of the top of a receptacle urged into the predetermined position within each receptacle-receiving pocket to prevent the receptacle from being lifted out of the receptacle-receiving pocket.

"In one embodiment, the receptacle holder comprises a base and a plurality of divider walls extending upwardly at spaced-apart positions from said base and defining said receptacle-receiving pockets in the spaces between adjacent pairs of divider walls. Each receptacle positioning feature is disposed along one side of each of said receptacle-receiving pockets, and each resilient element is disposed along one side of each of said receptacle-receiving pockets opposite said positioning feature.

"In one embodiment, each positioning feature comprises a V-shaped notch formed on one side of each divider wall

"In one embodiment, each resilient element comprises a spring clip including one portion attached to a divider wall defining one side of the receptacle-receiving pocket and another portion projecting from the divider wall into the receptacle-receiving pocket.

"In one embodiment, the sample rack further includes a handle associated with said receptacle holder.

"In one embodiment, a guide slot formed is formed in a bottom side of the base, and said guide slot is configured to engage a guide rail within an apparatus configured to receive the sample rack.

"In one embodiment, the sample rack further includes a machine readable label.

"In one embodiment, the receptacle-receiving pockets are arranged in an aligned configuration.

"In one embodiment, the receptacle-receiving pocket is configured to receive a cylindrical test tube of any of a plurality of different diameters.

"In one embodiment, the cover is made from a transparent or translucent material.

"In one embodiment, the cover includes opposed side walls, upper divider walls, and lower divider walls. The transverse wall extends between the opposed side walls with a portion of each side wall extending above said transverse wall and a portion of each side wall extending below said transverse wall. The upper divider walls project above said transverse wall and extend across said transverse wall from one side wall to the other side wall with one upper divider wall disposed between each adjacent pair of access openings. The lower divider walls project below the transverse wall and extend across said transverse wall from one side wall to the other side wall with one lower divider wall disposed between each adjacent pair of access openings.

"In one embodiment, the receptacle retaining element associated with each receptacle-receiving pocket comprises a notch formed in each lower divider wall.

"Further aspects of the invention are embodied in a method for reading machine-readable labels disposed on receptacles carried on a receptacle rack that is placed in an apparatus comprising a plurality of rack-receiving locations. Each rack-receiving location is configured to receive a rack holding at least one receptacle. The apparatus further includes a label-reading device configured to read a rack-identifying machine-readable label disposed on the rack and machine-readable labels disposed on the at least one receptacle held on the rack, and the label reading device is disposed adjacent to one of the rack-receiving locations. A rack holding at least one receptacle having a machine readable label disposed thereon is placed in the rack-receiving location disposed adjacent to the label reading device. During or after placing the rack, the machine-readable label of each receptacle having a machine-readable label is read to obtain receptacle data and the rack-identifying machine readable label is read to obtain rack identifying data. The receptacle data obtained and the rack identifying data obtained are stored, and the receptacle data is associated with the rack identifying data. The rack is then removed from the rack-receiving location disposed adjacent to the label-reading device. Next, the is placed in one of the other rack-receiving locations. During or after placing the rack in one of the other rack-receiving locations, the rack-identifying machine readable label is read to obtain rack identifying data. Location data identifying the rack-receiving location in which the rack was placed is acquired. The stored receptacle data that is associated with the rack-identifying data is retrieved, and the retrieved receptacle data is associated with the acquired location data to thereby associate the retrieved receptacle data with the rack-receiving location in which the rack was placed.

"In one embodiment, the method further includes the step of reading receptacle position-identifying machine readable labels to obtain receptacle position data for each receptacle having a machine-readable label.

"In one embodiment, the machine-readable labels are barcode labels and the label reading device is a barcode reader.

"In one embodiment, the rack-receiving location comprises a linear track adapted to receive a rack configured to hold a plurality of receptacles in an aligned orientation.

"In one embodiment, the method further includes the step of providing an indication of the rack-receiving location in which the rack should be placed after removing the rack from the rack-receiving location adjacent to the label reading device, and, in another embodiment, the method further includes the step of determining whether the rack was placed in the indicated location.

"In one embodiment, the method further includes the step of measuring the time lapsed between removing the rack from the rack-receiving location adjacent to the label reading device and placing the rack in one of the other rack-receiving locations, and, in another embodiment, whether the time lapsed is within a specified period of time is determined.

"Further aspects of the invention are embodied in an apparatus for reading machine-readable labels disposed on receptacles and associating receptacle data read from each machine-readable label with a location within the system. The apparatus includes a plurality of rack-receiving locations, a label reading device, and a data processing system. Each of the rack-receiving locations is configured to receive a rack holding at least one receptacle. The label reading device is configured to read a rack-identifying machine-readable label disposed on the rack and machine-readable labels disposed on receptacles held on the rack, and the label reading device is disposed adjacent to one of said rack-receiving locations. The data processing system includes data storage media and is configured to read the machine-readable label of each receptacle having a machine-readable label and read the rack-identifying machine readable label when the rack is placed into said rack-receiving location disposed adjacent to said label reading device to obtain receptacle data for each receptacle having a machine-readable label and to obtain rack identifying data. The data processing system stores the receptacle data and the rack identifying data and associates the receptacle data with the rack identifying data. The data processing system reads the rack-identifying machine readable label when the rack is placed in one of the other rack-receiving locations to obtain rack identifying data. The data processing system acquires location data identifying the other rack-receiving location in which the rack was placed. And the data processing system retrieves the stored receptacle data that is associated with the rack-identifying data and associates the retrieved receptacle data with the location data to thereby associate the retrieved receptacle data with the rack-receiving location in which the rack was placed.

"In one embodiment, the machine readable labels are barcode labels and the label reading device is a barcode reader.

"In one embodiment, each rack-receiving location comprises a linear track adapted to receive a rack configured to hold a plurality of receptacles in an aligned orientation.

"In one embodiment, the data processing system is further configured to provide an indication of the rack-receiving location in which a rack should be placed.

"In one embodiment, the apparatus further comprises a rack configured to hold one or more receptacles and includes a rack-identifying machine-readable label.

"These and other features, aspects, and advantages of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art after considering the following detailed description, appended claims and accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

"The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated herein and form part of the specification, illustrate various embodiments of the present invention. In the drawings, like reference numbers indicate identical or functionally similar elements.

"FIG. 1 is an upper front perspective view of a sample receptacle module embodying aspects of the present invention.

"FIG. 2 is an upper rear perspective view of the sample receptacle module.

"FIG. 3 is a lower front perspective view of a sample bay of the sample receptacle module.

"FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a sample rack of the sample receptacle module including a receptacle holder and a cover.

"FIG. 5 is a top view of the receptacle holder with the cover removed.

"FIG. 6 is a side view of the sample rack, including the receptacle holder and the cover.

"FIG. 7 is side view of the sample rack, including the receptacle holder and the cover, with a plurality of differently-sized sample receptacles carried in the receptacle holder.

"FIG. 8 is an enlarged upper front perspective view showing, in isolation, a single viscous string removal element of the sample bay cover of FIGS. 1 and 2.

"FIG. 9 is a rear upper perspective view showing, in isolation, the viscous string removal element of FIG. 8.

"FIG. 10 is a partial top view of the sample bay cover of FIGS. 1 and 2 showing viscous string removal elements and schematically indicating a path traveled by a sample transfer probe while moving from a sample access opening formed in the cover.

"FIG. 11 is a partial top view of a sample bay cover showing a first alternative configuration of viscous string removal elements and schematically indicating a path traveled by a sample transfer probe while moving from a sample access opening formed in the cover.

"FIG. 12 is a partial top view of a sample bay cover showing a second alternative configuration of viscous string removal elements and schematically indicating a path traveled by a sample transfer probe while moving from a sample access opening formed in the cover.

"FIG. 13 is a partial top view of a sample bay cover showing a third alternative configuration of viscous string removal elements and schematically indicating a path traveled by a sample transfer probe while moving from a sample access opening formed in the cover.

"FIG. 14 is a partial top view of a sample bay cover showing a fourth alternative configuration of viscous string removal elements and schematically indicating a path traveled by a sample transfer probe while moving from a sample access opening formed in the cover.

"FIG. 15 is a partial top view of a sample bay cover showing a fifth alternative configuration of viscous string removal elements and schematically indicating a path traveled by a sample transfer probe while moving from a sample access opening formed in the cover.

"FIG. 15A is a cross-section along line A-A in FIG. 15.

"FIG. 16 is a flow chart illustrating a method for separating a string of viscous material from the probe of a fluid transfer mechanism.

"FIG. 17 is a schematic view of a system including a sample receptacle module, an automated pipettor, and a controller for controlling operation of the pipettor and programmed to execute an algorithm to cause the pipettor to perform the method illustrated in FIG. 16."

URL and more information on this patent application, see: CLARK, Craig B.; GILKER, John M.; HAGEN, Norbert D.; HORGER, Olaf; HORN, Tom R.; KNIGHT, Byron J.; LUKHAUB, Waldemar; OPALSKY, David; RHUBOTTOM, Jason F. Method for Reading Machine-Readable Labels. Filed March 28, 2014 and posted August 7, 2014. Patent URL: http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.html&r=5995&p=120&f=G&l=50&d=PG01&S1=20140731.PD.&OS=PD/20140731&RS=PD/20140731

Keywords for this news article include: STRATEC Biomedical AG, Information Technology, Information and Data Processing.

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