GAO Dismisses IRobot Protest—Calls It Moot as Army Reassesses Robotic FX
In the latest episode of the iRobot-Robotic FX drama, the Government Accountability Office has dismissed iRobot’s protest of the $279.9 million military contract awarded last month to its rival. The GAO says the protest no longer applies in light of the Army’s decision earlier this week to set aside the contract as it reassesses Robotic FX’s suitability to perform the work.
The most recent news came in a filing by the U.S. Attorney’s office that was posted online after hours yesterday (we love these after-hours filings, especially on Fridays, because we don’t have social lives here at Xconomy). “We will not consider a protest where the issue presented has no practical consequences with regard to an existing federal government procurement, and thus is of purely academic interest,” read the GAO’s short decision.
U.S. Attorney Anita Johnson filed the GAO’s decision along with related documents in U.S. District Court in Boston, where iRobot, of Burlington, MA, is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent Robotic FX from manufacturing its Negotiator robot, which iRobot contends is a knock-off of its own PackBot. Both the Negotiator and the PackBot qualified in the Army competition to produce bomb detection robots, but Robotic FX underbid iRobot.
You might ask whether iRobot really cares about the preliminary injunction now, with the Robotic FX contract set aside. But rest assured, it does. Sources close to the investigation tell us that there are two major issues here. One is that the Army reassessment could still find for Robotic FX, and the contract could be reinstated. The other is that the only thing set aside is the military contract. IRobot, which among other things alleges trade secret misappropriation by Robotic FX and its founder, Jameel Ahed, wants to stop Robotic FX from producing Negotiator robots for any purpose.
A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner on the preliminary injunction issue is considered imminent. We’ll stay on it, and hope that the next move is announced during working hours.