Robotic FX Fires Back—Says iRobot’s “Secrets” Aren’t Secret
First, a warning. If you are looking for closure—an answer to the question of whether iRobot will get its requested preliminary injunction against Robotic FX—you’re out of luck. Although witness testimony ended on October 3, and ostensibly the filing period for further arguments was over the following week (or so), Judge Nancy Gertner of U.S. District Court in Boston has not yet ruled on the injunction question. So, read on at your peril.
What has happened today is that another filing has been entered into the court record, extending the now long-drawn-out battle over the injunction. This time the filing comes from Robotic FX, and (get ready) it’s a letter to the court in response to a letter to the court from iRobot back on October 10, which was written in response to a request from the court back on October 3 (the day testimony closed). The letter largely covers old ground, but it held a nugget of new information, for us, at least—Robotic FX’s argument that some of the material iRobot is claiming as confidential information or a trade secret is publicly disclosed in iRobot’s own patents.
If you’ve read this far, you know the basic story: iRobot is suing Robotic FX, alleging, essentially, that Robotic FX’s Negotiator robot is a knock-off of its PackBot (full backgrounder here). While waiting for its lawsuits to play out, iRobot wants a preliminary injunction against Robotic FX to stop it from producing the Negotiator.
The gist of today’s letter, to Gertner from Robotic FX attorney Patricia Kane Schmidt, of Bell, Boyd & Lloyd in Chicago, is that the injunction iRobot seeks is far too broad. Basically, Schmidt argues that if an injunction were to be granted, it should only apply to aspects of the Negotiator that are based on “iRobot’s protectable trade secrets and confidential information.” IRobot, she argues, essentially wants to enjoin “the entire Negotiator product.” What’s more, says Schmidt, “iRobot has failed to identify any protectable trade secrets or confidential information.”
That last argument is not new. IRobot has previously responded that it has laid out clear evidence of misappropriation of trade secrets—and that in any case, at the preliminary injunction stage it is only “required to present enough facts to show a likelihood of success” on the merits of its claims.
In short, the basic point has already been made and countered—several times. What’s new to us is Robotic FX’s discussion of specific features of the PackBot that iRobot alleges were copied in the Negotiator. These include the chassis design, the track, and a group of five other features found in one prototype version of the PackBot.
Schmidt’s letter argues that none of these features involves trade secrets or confidential information. She contends that the elastomer material used in the PackBot’s tracks and the method of manufacturing it are publicly known. She says that three of the five prototype PackBot features in question “are merely applications of common engineering knowledge.” The other two, as well as the chassis design, are not trade secrets but “publicly disclosed in iRobot’s patents,” according to the letter.
We were a bit confused about that last argument, which at first blush seemed to be saying, “this might be patent infringement, but it’s not misappropriation of confidential information or trade secrets.” However, we were able to get through to Schmidt, who made it clear that Robotic FX is not admitting any kind of patent infringement. Rather, she explained that if information is disclosed within a patent filing—but isn’t itself the subject of the patent—then that information becomes publicly available and cannot be claimed as a trade secret or confidential information. She says that in the letter she was “merely illustrating for the court that iRobot disclosed certain of its alleged trade secrets in issued patents.”
Schmidt’s letter concludes by arguing that “iRobot’s proposed preliminary injunction is improper,” and that it should be denied. You can read her entire letter here.