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Warehouse Robotics Rivals Continue Duking it Out in Court

A patent infringement case involving two robotics fulfillment companies’ dueling high-tech warehouse systems will move forward in court.

A U.S. District Court judge in Massachusetts ruled early this month a lawsuit by Calgary, Alberta-based Attabotics Inc. against Urbx of Boston can move forward after a partial strike down and partial granting of Urbx’s motion to dismiss.

Attabotics sought to paint the judge’s decision on the motion as one that ruled on the merits of the case in a statement it released Wednesday in which it said, “the court’s decision declines to accept Urbx’s argument that Attabotics’ claims against Urbx are meritless, and allows the patent infringement claims from Attabotics to proceed in litigation.

Attabotics declined through a spokesperson further comment on the case or the timing of its release in comparison to the June 6 decision in court.

While the case will continue, Urbx pointed out to Sourcing Journal through its attorney the company’s motion was granted partially, in 19 of the 34 claims.

“For Attabotics to assert that this ruling represents a victory for them rather than a significant setback is deeply misleading,” Urbx said. “Urbx intends to aggressively defend its cutting-edge products and is confident that it will be able to dispose of this litigation at an early stage, while continuing to develop innovative solutions in this growing market.”

At the heart of the lawsuit, which was filed last June, is whether Urbx’s warehouse robotics system infringes on two specific patents, Nos. 343 and 166, that Attabotics holds.

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The company is seeking damages and attorneys’ fees in its case.

Urbx argues Attabotics’ patents cover one robot, while Urbx’s system is a dual-robot configuration.

The judge wrote on that defense, “the parties have put forth competing interpretations of ‘one or more vehicles’ and ‘plurality of vehicles,’” with respect to the 166 patent.

“Urbx’s argument is predicated on the theory that its proposed reading of the claim limitations is the correct one,” the decision read. “While Urbx’s arguments may very well carry the day as the proceeding unfolds, it would be improper for this court to dismiss the complaint without the assistance of claim construction [interpretation of the patents].”

Attabotics, which has raised more than $122 million to date, bills itself as “the world’s first 3D robotics supply chain system” that uses space within a warehouse vertically and horizontally to help companies reduce their overall real estate footprint and allow product to be closer to the end consumer, a key selling point as delivery windows become shorter and shorter.

The company’s technology is used by Nordstrom, in addition to other companies it says are in the apparel, food, beverage and home goods industries.

Urbx calls itself the “world’s first on-demand robotics fulfillment system for last mile delivery,” also touting its ability to take warehouses vertical to save on real estate costs. Its solutions serve the e-commerce, grocery and factory verticals, and it also offers Urbx Market, which it bills as the world’s first autonomous store.

In March the company said it tapped Celestica for engineering and manufacturing services for its Urbx system. The company also said at that time it would announce go-lives with “name brand retailers” this year.

The warehouse robotics market is large and quickly growing, with Statista estimating it will reach $15 billion by 2030, from $5.3 billion in 2020. Not all robots are the same, however, with their abilities ranging from picking and assembling to transportation and packaging.

As companies evolve their fulfillment and logistics strategies, many are keen to explore new ways of automation in the warehouse. Last week Amazon revealed a number of new tech additions to its fulfillment centers, including its first fully autonomous mobile robot, which it’s calling Proteus, along with its Cardinal robot, aimed at eliminating the need for workers to twist and turn by automating package sorting.