International headquarters

Parent company of robotics firm Derry mired in international patent fight

AutoStore manufactures automated storage and retrieval systems for warehouses.

AutoStore Systems Inc., a Derry-based company that sells logistics robotic systems for warehouses and whose Norwegian parent company launches an initial $ 1.8 billion public offering in Oslo on Monday, is engaged in global patent infringement litigation which ended up in federal court in New Hampshire.

“The Robot Wars,” as they are dubbed in the tech press, is currently unfolding in two lawsuits in the U.S. District Court in Concord, both filed by Ocado Innovation, a UK company that claims AutoStore stole its patented technology.

AutoStore says it developed its technology on its own, and in another dispute, Ocado is making the copy. Litigation is also ongoing in London, Germany, Virginia and before the US International Trade Commission.

AutoStore, founded in 1996, claims to have 20,000 robots in 650 facilities in over 40 countries in facilities owned by companies such as UPS, Volkswagen, Gucci, Crocs, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Thermo Fischer Scientific

Although AutoStore has a number of U.S. customers, its U.S. headquarters in Derry opened in January 2018 – a 20,000 square foot facility used to store equipment and spares, house the customer, training and commercial support and a demonstration grid.

Calls and emails to the company to provide an update and comment on the dispute were not returned on time.

At the time, AutoStore was owned by a Swedish private equity firm, with the equipment made in Poland, and had three major business partners, Bastian Solutions (a unit of Toyota), Dematic and Swisslog, which takes care of the ‘essential installation and sales support. .

It was then sold to another private equity firm, Thomas H Lee Partners, in April 40% of the company was sold again to Softbank, which paid $ 2.8 billion and is selling around 1.83. billion dollars of its holdings in an IPO scheduled for November. .

The company said it expects the stock to trade in the range of $ 3.20 to $ 3.68 per share. If so, that would mean the company’s total value could exceed $ 12 billion, indicating the growth of warehousing and online shopping during the pandemic.

Battle over technology

But the launch comes in rough legal waters over the very technology that makes AutoStore so valuable.

In his lawsuit, Ocado, which works primarily in the grocery industry – Kroeger is one of his clients – calls the legacy AutoStore redline system obsolete and claims robots had difficulty transmitting themselves. things in the most efficient way. Ocado claims to have developed a solution with its “hive” technology. Ocado proposed that they work together. AutoStore visited one of Ocado’s automated warehouses in the UK and then expressed interest, but abruptly halted discussions, according to the lawsuit.

Then, in late 2020, AutoStore released its robotic black line grid system and a software product called Router, appearing to make an offer for the grocery market. Ocado claims that AutoStore’s system is similar to its beehive technology. AutoStore believed the technologies were similar as well and filed a patent infringement complaint against Ocado in the UK High Court before the US International Trade Commission in late 2020.

In January, Ocado hit back in New Hampshire, claiming it was AutoStore that violated its patents. He also filed an antitrust complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia in February and a lawsuit in Mannheim and Munich district courts in Germany in March.

According to an account from Charged, a UK retail information website, Ocado has lost a legal skirmish in London. But on August 13 in New Hampshire, Judge Joseph Laplante dismissed AutoStore’s request to dismiss the lawsuit as “one of many offensives in a multi-front legal battle between business competitors.”

Laplante was not convinced that the Ocado patent was only an “abstract idea ineligible for patent” and that, although “the claims of first-hand knowledge prior to the prosecution of the patents in question are lacking, she argued for a other circumstantial evidence of sufficient knowledge. to support both induced and intentional infringement claims.

AutoStore responded to the complaint two weeks later, claiming that it invented its robot system in 2010 and was commercially available in 2012, and it counterattacked, asking the judge to declare that the patent d’Ocado was disabled.

“AutoStore has developed its pioneering technology independently, without relying or even on knowledge of Ocado’s patented technology,” says the counterclaim.

Ocado’s latest costume targets a different patent, mostly related to the robot and grid setup. In this lawsuit, Ocado alleges that the IPO of AutoStore motivated the theft of its intellectual property.

“Under pressure to generate profits – and having missed the opportunity to partner with Ocado – AutoStore made a conscious decision to copy Ocado’s Cubic AS / RS technology and pass it off as AutoStore’s own, especially to target online grocery stores.

By the deadline, AutoStore did not respond to the latest lawsuit.

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.