The Autel Robotics vs. DJI patent is the drone world’s equivalent of Apple vs. Samsung—an intellectual property suit that threatens to shut down the import of tech products into the US. Autel scored a small victory last week, with a preliminary ruling in its favor, but the case is long from over.

Now DJI’s law firm, Finnegan, is reporting several wins in the latest round. The key issue in the past week has been Autel’s U.S. Patent No. 9,260,184. This covers the attachment of rotors to the drone as well as how the arms supporting the rotors fold up against the drone body.

Last week saw a victory in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) for Autel on the ‘184 patent on the rotors. The Chief Administrative Law Judge ruled that DJI had violated the patent and ordered a ban on the importation into the US of several DJI drones violating the patent: the Mavic Pro, Mavic Pro Platinum, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic Air, and Spark. The Mavic 2 drone bans would hurt the most, as those are still current models (until the Mavic 3 arrives this year). Autel also filed a motion to get DJI’s Phantom and Inspire series of drones excluded from import as well.

But this week sees a new twist. Finnegan took the case to the Patent Trial and Appeals Board. Yesterday the board ruled that the technology in patent ‘184 is in fact not patentable. This capped a week of rulings from the board in DJI’s favor. It also ruled as unpatentable two other Autel patents:

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,979,174 covering obstacle avoidance tech
  • U.S. Patent No. 10,044,013 covering how batteries clamp on

That lead Finnegan attorneys to claim victory in the latest round:

“Ultimately the Commission may decide that Autel deserves no remedy at all, but at a minimum, the Commission is unlikely to enforce any exclusion order or cease-and-desist order based on the three invalid patents. DJI’s sales in the U.S., therefore, will not be affected by Autel’s claims.”

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