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Robotics War: Canadian Technology Firm Takes Aim at U.S. Competitor

Canadian robotics supply chain firm Attabotics is taking aim at an American competitor for alleged intellectual property infringement.

On Thursday, the Calgary, Alberta-based company, which developed a robot-driven system for warehouse storage and retrieval of products filed a claim against Boston-based Urbx in United States District Court of Massachusetts. The lawsuit alleged that Urbx’s product offering, which relies on a similar system, violates patents held by Attabotics. Now, the company is seeking damages in the form of monetary relief and an injunction against further use of the technology.

Attabotics created a system that “condenses a traditional warehouse into a high density, vertical storage structure with a retrieval system,” the company explained in its suit, noting that the platform can be used in various types of fulfillment centers and warehouses, as well as in grocery stores. The storage structures are both modular and scalable, so they can expand as companies find themselves needing extra storage during high volume periods.

Each structure is made up of aligned cells centralized around a void that forms a shaft within which robotic shuttles can travel, picking products from individual cells. The robots, which have extendable arms, can quickly pull items from designated locations and then deliver them to the perimeter where orders are picked, packed and shipped, Attabotics explained.

While traditional warehouses and DCs can be vast and sprawling, the system allows for efficient vertical storage of product, allowing companies to make use of storage space even if they have a limited footprint. “Even as brick-and-mortar buildings have given way to e-commerce and online shopping and retailers, these online retailers require space to store their goods,” Attabotics noted. By verticalizing storage, companies can take advantage of all the space at their disposal, while the company’s robotic shuttles make quick work of pulling product from hard-to-reach cells that would be inaccessible to human workers.

Attabotics was issued a patent (No. 10,604,343) for its “Storage and Retrieval System” on Mar. 31, 2020 by the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office, giving the company all right, title and interest to the system. “Urbx has, on information and belief, infringed and continues to infringe” on the patent, the company wrote, “by making, importing, using, selling, and/or offering to sell in the United States a robotic storage and retrieval system embodying the patented invention of the ’343 Patent.”

The company described its IP as “a storage/retrieval vehicle for use in a gridded storage structure comprising at least one stack of storage cells in which each storage cell comprises four storage locations situated on four different sides of an upright central shaft” as the central basis for its lawsuit. The storage and retrieval vehicle, or robot, is comprised of a rotatable turret and extendable arm to four working positions, the company continued—a feature that Urbx’s storage technology system also uses.

Urbx was notified of its infringement on April 5 and again on May 27, Attabotics wrote, but continues to market and sell its competing system, dubbed Urbx Market, in the U.S. “Upon information and belief, the foregoing acts of infringement by Urbx have been willful, intentional and purposeful, in disregard of and indifferent to Attabotics’ rights,” the company wrote.

The company is now seeking a permanent injunction against further sale and use of Urbx Market. In the event that the injunction is not granted, Attabotics seeks “a compulsory and ongoing royalty” for the use of the technology, which would require Urbx to provide full and complete reporting of its gains through the sale of Urbx Market, as well as the payment of lawyers’ fees and interest payments on damages. A date for trial or resolution has not yet been set.

“Urbx vigorously denies the meritless claims of patent infringement raised in Attabotics’ complaint,” a spokesperson for the company told Sourcing Journal. “Urbx respects intellectual property, and does not infringe the asserted patents. Urbx will respond to the complaint in due course with a complete defense.”

Attabotics declined Sourcing Journal’s request to comment on the lawsuit.

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