Drone manufacturers DJI and Autel Robotics have finally settled out of court their years-long patent infringement disputes. Though the details of the settlement have not been revealed publicly, the case has been reportedly settled only days before a jury trial was set to begin.
Drone industry rivals, DJI and Autel, have been embroiled in a series of to-and-fro patent disputes since 2016.
On August 11, 2016, DJI alleged that Autel had copied the look and feel of DJI’s flagship Phantom series while designing the X-Star and X-Star Premium drones.
Seeking damages arising out of Autel’s infringement of US Patent Nos. 9,016,617, 9,284,049, 9,321,530, and D691,514, DJI claimed that Autel had hired a former engineer of DJI, Fazhan Chen, who had worked extensively on the research and development for DJI’s drones, including the Phantom 3. DJI further claimed that Autel had priced its X-Star products in a manner that undercut the pricing of DJI’s drones, including the Phantom series.
A jury trial in the case was to begin this week.
Autel wanted Randall Warnas to testify against DJI
Interestingly, Autel had filed a motion to include trial testimony from Randall Warnas. A former employee of DJI, Randall was serving as Autel’s CEO at the time. DroneDJ readers may recall Randall stepped down from his position only last week, citing nepotism and integrity issues.
The case judge, however, had quashed Autel’s motion before Randall announced he was parting ways with the company. It was felt that since Randall’s inclusion as a witness came at the last moment, it would raise “substantial concern that DJI would be surprised and unfairly prejudiced by hearing his testimony for the first time at trial.” The court order read:
The evidence that Autel evidently seeks to present cannot be that important, given how long it took Autel to disclose [this witness], and there is no indication that other timely-disclosed witnesses could not provide the same evidence. DJI will be surprised and prejudiced at trial by the testimony, as it has not had an opportunity to depose the new witness.
In a similar fashion, DJI’s request to bring on more witnesses was also denied, with the court saying:
DJI fares no better than Autel in attempting to show that its failures [to timely disclose witnesses] were substantially justified or harmless.
The court had scheduled five days to preside over this trial, with jury selection beginning on August 16. However, on August 12, the law firms representing DJI and Autel informed the court that a settlement had been reached.
And that does seem for the best, considering it wouldn’t have been easy for either side to sufficiently explain the intricacies of the disputed patents to a jury in that short a time. Moreover, with Autel no longer producing the X-Star drones and DJI continuing to improve its iconic Phantom series, the latter was anyway entering the trial with the battle half won. We can’t say who blinked first, but in a fast-growing and increasingly competitive market, this will not be the last you’re hearing of drone patent wars.
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