IRobot Counters U.S. Attorney’s Office Arguments Supporting Robotic FX

10/22/07Follow @bbuderi

In the latest salvo in the iRobot-Robotic FX legal battle, iRobot attorneys late last week took the U.S. Attorney’s office to task for its arguments in support of Robotic FX.

This part of the complicated case (in which iRobot alleges, essentially, that Robotic FX’s Negotiator robot is a knock-off of its PackBot—click here for a full backgrounder) dates back to September 19. That’s when the military’s Robotic Systems Joint Project Office and the U.S. Attorney’s office filed statements arguing to Judge Nancy Gertner of U.S. District Court in Boston that granting a preliminary injunction against Robotic FX would slow the delivery of bomb-detecting robots to combat forces. The U.S. Attorney’s office additionally argued that the District Court was the wrong venue for iRobot’s complaint against Robotic FX, which had beat out the Burlington, MA, firm for a $280 million contract to deliver what the military calls “xBots.” (Both the Negotiator and the PackBot qualified as xBots in the competition for the contract, but Robotic FX underbid iRobot.)

Since the September 19 filing, there has been some back and forth on both issues. In a filing last Tuesday, October 16, the U.S. Attorney’s office conceded part of its jurisdiction argument but reiterated its opposition to a preliminary injunction. Late Friday night, iRobot fired back with a new filing calling the government’s October 16 submission “untimely and procedurally improper,” and then countering its arguments point by point.

Here are the main issues covered in Friday’s filing from iRobot:

—The U.S. Attorney has now conceded that U.S. District Court is the right venue to hear a trade secrets case, but still argues the preliminary injunction issue belongs in the Court of Federal Claim because it is essentially an effort to block a military contract.

IRobot responded in Friday’s filing that the injunction it seeks is aimed at preventing Robotic FX from profiting from misappropriation of trade secrets and that it is “not directed toward any one private or government contract.” IRobot also points out that the lawsuit against Robotic FX was filed before the xBot contract was awarded, and it questions the government for awarding that contract on September 14, nearly a month after Robotic FX founder Jameel Ahed was observed throwing evidence into a dumpster and after it was learned he had shredded about 100 CD-ROMs and wiped data from at least one laptop computer. From Friday’s filing: “Indeed, the Government awarded the xBot contract knowing that an injunction was possible, and knowing that the Defendants faced adverse consequences (including an adverse inference) due to Defendant Ahed’s own destruction of substantial evidence relevant to the lawsuit.”

—The U.S. Attorney in its October 16 filing alleged that iRobot was trying to take over the Robotic FX contract after it had lost out in the normal bidding process. The government pointed out that iRobot personnel had even testified in court that the company could start delivery on the xBot contract almost immediately should Robotic FX be enjoined.

IRobot countered on Friday that it only testified about being able to fulfill the contract after the government had argued that the injunction should not be granted because it would delay the robots from reaching the troops. “This argument ignores that the Government itself, and not iRobot, introduced the issue of the government’s urgent need of robots as a public policy factor relevant to the Court’s preliminary injunction analysis, and then mistakenly tried to blame iRobot for endangering the lives of U.S. military personnel. As a result, iRobot was forced to respond that Robotic FX was not the only source of robots qualified under the xBot competition, and that urgently-needed robots could be immediately procured irrespective of any injunction affecting Robotic FX.”

(In an interesting footnote to this section, iRobot argues that the government could even order the robots under an existing, already funded contract with iRobot that was issued in May 2006.)

—The U.S. Attorney, like Robotic FX, has argued that iRobot has not specifically identified what trade secrets were stolen.

IRobot’s counter: “The Government apparently has not had the benefit of reviewing much of the relevant testimony and evidence presented in proceedings before the Court, and thus may not appreciate that iRobot presented substantial specific evidence of the trade secrets that the Defendants misappropriated” Among those secrets, iRobot said, is its robot track design and the material and manufacturing process used to produce the track. But it also argued that “at the preliminary injunction stage iRobot is not required to identify each and every trade secret misappropriated; iRobot is required to present enough facts to show a likelihood of success on the merits of the trade secret and breach of confidentiality claims. iRobot has done so. ”

IRobot goes on to take the federal government to task for supporting Robotic FX, despite Ahed’s admitting to destroying evidence. “Indeed, counsel is unaware of any trade secret matter characterized by the extraordinary incidents of intentional spoliation of physical evidence and electronic evidence that Defendant Ahed has undertaken here. The extensive evidence of spoliation in this matter undercuts the Defendants’ positions on the merits—and by extension the Government’s support of Defendants… Thus, contrary to the Government’s accusation, iRobot has specifically described the trade secrets and confidential information misappropriated by Defendants, and the Government is the one who has failed to present credible arguments regarding the requested injunction.”

You can read the entire document here. We’re standing by for the judge’s ruling on the preliminary injunction.

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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  • http://www.hubspot.com Dan Tyre

    So what does this mean?

    Is this an endless legal battle or is it possible to determine the critical legal issues and whether this is hogwash or a reasonable legal pursuit?