iRobot, SharkNinja patent dispute receives initial determination

iRobot’s Roomba Combo j7+ at its docking station. iRobot’s vacuum cleaners can autonomously charge themselves. | Source: iRobot

Administrative Law Judge Maryann McNamara issues an initial determination in iRobot’s patent infringement lawsuit against SharkNinja. If the full commission, which is expected to make a judgment by February 2023, upholds Judge McNamara’s decision, imports of SharkNinja’s infringing products could be banned. 

iRobot’s lawsuit involved four of its patents, and Judge McNamara found that SharkNinja infringed upon two of them, U.S. Patent No. 9,884,423 (the ‘423 patent) and U.S. Patent No. 10,813,517 (the ‘517 patent). The court found that SharkNinja did not violate the other two patents iRobot included in its initial filing. 

The ‘423 patent involves it autonomous robot auto-docking and energy management systems and methods. iRobot’s ‘517 patent is for its navigational control system for robotic devices. The company filed a complaint alleging SharkNinja infringed upon its patents with the International Trade Commission (ITC) in January 2021. 

“This determination validates the strength of iRobot’s patent portfolio and the hard work of our engineers over the better part of the last two decades,” Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot, said. “We are glad to see the ITC is holding SharkNinja accountable for its misappropriation of iRobot intellectual property. iRobot thanks ALJ McNamara and the ITC for their hard work in this case.”

Since the complaint was filed, SharkNinja has redesigned its products to avoid any infringement. The initial determination found that the company’s redesigned products did not infringe upon any of the disputed iRobot patents. The company has begun manufacturing and selling the redesigned products, and plans to replace all of its current products with the redesigned ones if the commission upholds its ruling. 

iRobot’s complaint is the second time the company has asserted a lawsuit against SharkNinja. In 2019, iRobot filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the District of Massachusetts to stop sales and distribution of the Shark IQ Robot. That case is on hold for related proceedings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

In August, Amazon announced that it would be acquiring iRobot for $1.7 billion, expanding the company’s already extensive robotics ecosystem. Amazon will acquire iRobot for $61 per share in an all-cash transaction, including iRobot’s net debt. Completion of the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions. On completion, Colin Angle will remain as CEO of iRobot.

The FTC has started an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s plans to acquire iRobot. The FTC’s investigation will reportedly focus on whether the data provided by iRobot’s Roomba robot vacuum gives Amazon an unfair advantage in the retail industry. The investigation will also reportedly look at how the line of robot vacuums would fit in with Amazon’s existing smart home products, like Ring and Alexa.

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