Judge Asks For More Information on Venue Issue in IRobot–Robotic FX Case

9/24/07Follow @bbuderi

In an electronic order posted today, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner said more information was needed to support an argument by Robotic FX and the U.S. Attorney’s office that iRobot’s lawsuit against Robotic FX should be heard in another venue. The order gives Robotic FX until Friday to make its case for the change.

Burlington, MA-based iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) is seeking a preliminary injunction against Robotic FX of Alsip, IL, which on September 14 won a $279.9 million military contract to deliver its “Negotiator” robots for use in the Middle East. In the Massachusetts case, iRobot is accusing Robotic FX and founder Jameel Ahed, a former iRobot employee, of infringing on patents for iRobot’s “Packbot” military robot and misappropriation and misuse of confidential information related to the device. (IRobot has also filed a separate patent-infringement case against Robotic FX in Alabama.)

With Robotic FX set to deliver its first two robots to the U.S. military this week, the U.S. Attorney’s office and a representative of the military last week filed briefs arguing against iRobot’s bid for the preliminary injunction, on the grounds that military lives could depend on speedy delivery of the robots.

The U.S. Attorney’s statement further argued that iRobot’s lawsuits were filed “in a forum that circumvents the usual forum for resolution of disputes related to government procurements…” It said that the proper venue for such an argument was the Court of Federal Claims.

In an order posted today, Judge Gertner put the onus on Robotic FX to support the argument that her court did not have jurisdiction. “The defendants, as well as the United States in its Statement of Interest, have raised the question of whether this action is in reality a challenge to a government contract. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1491(b)(1), that would apparently place jurisdiction in the Court of Federal Claims. However, the Court of Claims is an Article I court, with jurisdiction derived from the Congressional power to pay the debts of the United States; the Supreme Court has consequently suggested that it cannot hear disputes between private parties.”

The order continues, “The defendants and the United States, should they wish the Court to consider a transfer to the Court of Claims, are hereby ORDERED to provide briefing on whether jurisdiction properly lies in the Court of Claims no later than Friday, September 28. The plaintiff’s response, if any, shall be received by Friday, October 3.”

A hearing about the requested injunction was scheduled for last Friday in Gertner’s court and continued until today. However, as of early this afternoon, we were not able to reach court personnel to verify the status of today’s scheduled hearing.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • Robert Tete

    Until the military contract was awarded, there was no military contract. The suit for injunctive relief was filed prior to the award of the military contract,and removed to federal court on August 29, 2007. The military contract was reported as awarded on September 18, 2007. How can a court vested with subject matter jurisdiction be divested of that jurisdiction by events occurring after the fact?