Ocado accused of breaching robotic technology patents

The Ocado Smart Platform is based on AutoStore's robotics technology, the Norwegian firm claims.

British online grocery firm Ocado is facing lawsuits in the US and UK over claims that its robot-operated warehouse technology has infringed patents held by Norway's AutoStore.

AutoStore, which specialises in developing warehouse automation systems, filed legal claims in American and British courts on Thursday, seeking monetary damages which could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

AutoStore said the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) is based on its own robotics technology, and infringes many of its patents. The Norwegian firm is seeking injunctions to bar Ocado and its British partner, Tharsus Group, from using, manufacturing or selling technology that infringes its patents.  It has also asked the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to issue an order to stop imports of Ocado's "infringing products" in United States.

"Our ownership of the technology at the heart of Ocado's warehousing system is clear," AutoStore CEO Karl Johan Lier said in a statement, according to Reuters.

He added, "We will not tolerate Ocado's continued infringement of our intellectual property rights in its effort to boost its growth and attempt to transform itself into a global technology company."

Responding to the allegations, Ocado insists that AutoStore didn't inform it about any patent infringement, and that it would investigate the claims once it receives further details.

The company also flipped the argument, saying that it has its own patents and will investigate whether AutoStore has breached them.

"We will always vigorously protect our intellectual property," the British firm said.

Earlier this week, Ocado became the most valuable retailer on the UK stock market after its market capitalisation increased to £22 billion, surpassing Tesco, which is worth about £21 billion.

Much of Ocado's value comes from its potential to supply its automated warehousing systems and software to supermarket chains around the world, enabling them to break into online grocery sales.

In 2018, Ocado signed a deal with US supermarket chain Kroger to "allow Kroger to redefine the grocery customer experience in the US through the adoption of the centralised, automated model of online retailing provided by the Ocado Smart Platform".

And last year, Ocado signed another deal with Japan's largest retailer Aeon to build advanced warehouses and supply ecommerce technology for the £7bn turnover chain.

The firm has seen its share price climb since March, as coronavirus-related lockdowns in different countries triggered a rapid increase in online grocery sales. Last month, Ocado said that it expected to beat profit forecasts for the current financial year, with Q3 retail revenue of £587 million up 52 per cent compared to last year's level.

Source: Computing.co.uk