AutoStore sues Ocado for infringing tech patents

AutoStore has filed a patent infringement lawsuits in the United States and the United Kingdom against Ocado Group.

The Norwegian automated storage and retrieval system manufacturer 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.

Ocado has signed agreements with retailers such as Kroger, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons that it claims rely on the continued infringement of AutoStore’s intellectual property.

AutoStore has filed complaints with the US International Trade Commission, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the High Court of England and Wales.

Karl Johan Lier, chief executive and president of AutoStore, stated: “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.”

AutoStore’s system works by stacking storage bins vertically in a grid and stored in a cubic structure, with the bins retrieved by robots that travel on the top of the structure. AutoStore currently supports more than 500 installations and 18,000 robots across 30 countries, serving markets from grocery and healthcare to aviation for customers including Asda, Best Buy and Lufthansa.

Ocado too is an AutoStore customer, having first purchased AutoStore technology in 2012. Ocado’s alleged infringement of AutoStore’s intellectual property is the foundation on which the Ocado Smart Platform was built and on which Ocado’s business today is based. This is deployed in its customer fulfilment centres.

AutoStore claimed that Ocado’s platform infringes several AutoStore patents, including those relating to the fundamental central cavity design of its 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 already found that AutoStore is entitled to ownership of its patents covering the robots’ central cavity technology, “yet Ocado has continued to pursue lucrative partnerships by selling that technology - as well as other AutoStore-owned technology - as its own,” read a statement.

Ocado responded: “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.”

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