AutoStore sues Ocado for infringing warehouse technology patents

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Norwegian robotics company AutoStore has filed patent infringement lawsuits in the USA and UK against British online grocery retailer and technology company, Ocado Group.

The automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) developer is seeking court orders barring Ocado and its partner, Tharsus Group, from manufacturing, importing, using and selling technology that infringes AutoStore’s patents, as well as monetary damages.

According to AutoStore, Ocado first purchased AutoStore technology in 2012 and has subsequently signed agreements with retailers such as Kroger, Marks & Spencer, and Morrisons that reportedly rely on the “continued infringement of AutoStore’s intellectual property”.

However, Ocado responded by saying it had not been notified about the legal action and indicated it would fight any such claims.

AutoStore said it had filed two complaints in the USA; one with the US International Trade Commission and one with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, as well as as well as one in the UK at the High Court of England and Wales.

The filing with the US International Trade Commission seeks an exclusion order preventing the importation of Ocado’s infringing products into the USA, while the filing with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia seeks an injunction against, among other things, the manufacture, sale, and use of Ocado’s infringing products, as well as monetary damages for Ocado’s past and ongoing infringement of AutoStore’s intellectual property.

At the High Court of England and Wales, AutoStore is seeking, among other remedies, an injunction barring the manufacture, sale, and use of Ocado’s infringing products in the United Kingdom, as well as monetary damages.

The complaint filed with the US International Trade Commission also names Printed Motor Works, an Ocado supplier, as a respondent. Printed Motor Works, based in Hampshire, manufactures and designs compact electric motors and motor gearboxes for motion control applications.

“Since 1996, AutoStore has developed and pioneered technology that has revolutionised retail storage and order fulfilment, and is driving the growth of online retail,” said Karl Johan Lier, CEO and president of AutoStore.

“Our ownership of the technology at the heart of Ocado’s warehousing system is clear. We will not tolerate Ocado’s continued infringement of our intellectual property rights in its effort to boost its growth and attempt to transform itself into a global technology company.”

In the AutoStore system, storage bins are stacked vertically in a grid and stored in a cubic structure, with the bins retrieved by robots that travel on the top of the structure. Its customers include the likes of ASDA, Best Buy, and Lufthansa.

Ocado’s alleged infringement of AutoStore’s ASRS intellectual property – including the storage system and robots – is claimed by AutoStore to be the foundation on which the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) was built and on which Ocado’s business today is based.

AutoStore has further alleged that Ocado’s OSP infringes several AutoStore patents, including those relating to the fundamental central cavity design of the ASRS robots; the arrangement of the lifting mechanism that enables those robots to lift and place bins in their cavities; and the robots’ in-wheel motors.

A court in Norway has reportedly already found that AutoStore is entitled to ownership of its patents covering the robots’ central cavity technology.

Ocado Group issued the following response to the lawsuit: “Ocado confirms it has not received any papers in relation to these claims and this is the first we have heard of this new claim. We are not aware of any infringement of any valid Autostore rights and of course we will investigate any claims once we receive further details.

“We have multiple patents protecting the use of our systems in grocery and we are investigating whether Autostore has, or intends to infringe those patents. We will always vigorously protect our intellectual property.”

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