IRobot Files Patent Suit Seeking U.S. Removal of Roomba Rival

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IRobot Corp., maker of Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, has filed a new patent-infringement complaint seeking to get rival JS Global Lifestyle Co.’s SharkNinja vacuums and hybrid vacuum-moppers cut out of the U.S. market.

In a complaint filed Thursday at the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, iRobot portrays itself as an American success story with a “passion for innovation” that’s been undercut by SharkNinja incorporating those inventions into its Chinese-made knockoffs. IRobot wants the trade agency to ban imports of various SharkNinja products, including the ION, IQ and AI wet/dry VacMop.

Bedford, Massachusetts-based iRobot is turning to the agency after failing to hobble SharkNinja with an earlier lawsuit closer to home. A federal judge in Boston in 2019 rebuffed iRobot’s request to order SharkNinja to stop selling its products while the lawsuit was pending. That suit was put on hold last week while the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office conducts a review of some of the patents in the case.

SharkNinja said the complaint is iRobot’s “latest attempt to try to dominate the robot cleaner market through litigation” and said it was “just as unsubstantiated as its first set of allegations.”

“iRobot has engaged in a years-long pattern of using the courts to exclude fair competition, rather than competing on a level playing field in the market, and allowing consumers to choose high quality robot cleaners at consumer-friendly prices,” SharkNinja said in a statement,

IRobot said its Roomba vacuum and Braava floor mops “can map the floor of a home, sense changes in the floor type being cleaned, spot clean, avoid objects and cliffs (such as stairs), and intelligently approach a base station to recharge, among other innovative features.”

Sales of the Roomba and Braava have been exceeding expectations, driven by what iRobot Chief Executive Colin Angle has said were families housebound during the pandemic looking for shortcuts in keeping their homes clean. It helped drive a 59% jump in iRobot shares last year.

SharkNinja purposefully used iRobot inventions in “its lower-quality imitations, and quickly became the second-largest domestic player in the market segment” by marketing itself as a low-cost alternative, iRobot told the agency.

A new civil suit also was filed in Boston, making the same allegations over iRobot’s five patents and seeking unspecified cash compensation. That case is likely to be put on hold once the ITC begins its investigation.

The trade commission is known for its speed -- it typically completes investigations within 15 to 18 months. Just as importantly for iRobot, any challenges SharkNinja may file at the patent office won’t affect the pace of the case. The trade agency has said it won’t wait for any reviews by the patent office, and the patent office has recently cited the speed of the ITC in declining to even institute a review.

IRobot’s also had more success at the agency than in court. In 2018 it won an order limiting imports of some robotic vacuum cleaners and forced settlements out of others.

The case is In the Matter of Certain Robotic Cleaning Devices, 337-3530, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

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