IRobot Seeks Sanctions Against Robotic FX in Alabama Case; In Other News, the DeLorean Has at Least Two Remaining Fans

11/12/07

Having won a partial injunction against Robotic FX in a Massachusetts court, attorneys for iRobot last week turned their attention to the firm’s separate Alabama lawsuit against its rival. In a motion filed on Wednesday, iRobot asked that Robotic FX be held in contempt and sanctioned for founder Jameel Ahed’s destruction of evidence after the Alabama court had issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Robotic FX “from failing to preserve all evidence, information, data and documents” concerning the patents, technology, and allegations at issue in the case. Such sanctions, iRobot attorneys said, could run from financial penalties to a summary judgment against Robotic FX.

Like the case in Massachusetts (a full trial of which is slated to begin no later than April 7, 2008), iRobot’s case against Robotic FX in Alabama charges, essentially, that Robotic FX’s Negotiator robot is a knock-off of iRobot’s PackBot. But where the Massachusetts case focuses on trade secrets and confidential information that iRobot says Ahed obtained while working at the Burlington, MA-based firm and used in building the Negotiator, the Alabama case focuses on two iRobot patents the company says the Negotiator infringes upon.

IRobot sought and won the temporary restraining order on August 20 after detectives it had hired observed Ahed taking a large duffle bag from Robotic FX’s headquarters on the night of August 17 (the day the lawsuits were filed) and tossing dozens of items from the bag into a dumpster on August 18. On the 21st, U.S. Marshals, accompanied by iRobot attorneys and forensic specialists, served Robotic FX with the restraining order and searched the company headquarters, Ahed’s home, and the home of Kimberly Hill, Ahed’s girlfriend and Robotic FX’s Chief Operating Officer. Ahed would ultimately admit that, in addition to leaving some of the items detectives found in the dumpster (he suggests at least one item might have been planted), he had also shredded some 100 data CDs and erased a number of hard drives from Robotic FX and personal computers by the time the Marshals arrived. But last week’s request for sanctions focuses on a laptop that Ahed hid under a bed—with a disk-wiping program still running—when he and Hill reached her apartment (the last of the three sites searched) ahead of the marshals.

iRobot’s argument for sanctions, in a nutshell (from a brief supporting the motion): “Mr. Ahed, after being served with this Court’s TRO, therefore, attempted to continue his course of action by hiding his destruction of evidence—an action which would have itself effectively destroyed the evidence of his spoliation conduct. The TRO was entered to maintain and preserve evidence. Mr. Ahed’s efforts to conceal his destruction of evidence violated both the spirit and terms of the TRO.”

In the brief, iRobot attorneys request that the judge award monetary sanctions “for at least the costs and fees incurred to perform the significant legal and investigative costs that iRobot was compelled to undertake as a consequence of Robotic FX’s willful destruction of evidence.” What’s more, they add: “Mr. Ahed’s course of conduct warrants imposition of additional sanctions including at a minimum imposition of adverse inferences regarding iRobot’s claims and even extending to an issuance of a default judgment against Robotic FX.”

In other words, they are saying that the judge could declare an iRobot victory because of Ahed’s actions. But … Next Page »

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  • JC

    I just want to say I’ve really enjoyed your coverage on the iRobot/Robotic FX. I hope you keep up with the quality of your reporting on this truly humorous case.

    On an unrelated note, you should really consider capping your URLs at a certain limit. You’re not really getting any search engine benefit after so many characters, and the user benefits definitely run out long before these URLs do. :) I usually cap sites at 100 characters including the root domain name.

    Keep up the coverage guys!

  • Huh??

    I guess our soldiers won’t get their badly needed robots any time soon. So much for protecting our soldiers! Sounds like “we are happy to protect our soldiers as long as we get paid”. How much is a “warfighter” worth? – obviously less than losing an order.