AutoStore claims Ocado infringing on patents

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

NEDRE VATS, Norway – AutoStore has filed patent infringement lawsuits in the United States and the United Kingdom against online grocery retailer and technology company, Ocado Group Plc.

AutoStore is seeking court orders barring Ocado and its partner, Tharsus Group (of Blyth, U.K.), from manufacturing, importing, using and selling technology that infringes AutoStore’s patents, as well as monetary damages. Ocado has signed agreements with retailers such as Kroger (U.S.), Marks & Spencer (U.K.), and Morrisons (U.K.) that rely on the continued infringement of AutoStore’s intellectual property.

AutoStore has filed complaints in the following tribunals:

  • The US International Trade Commission, seeking an exclusion order preventing the importation of Ocado’s infringing products into the United States;
  • The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, seeking an injunction against, among other things, the manufacture, sale, and use of Ocado’s infringing products, as well as monetary damages for Ocado’s past and ongoing infringement of AutoStore’s intellectual property; and
  • The High Court of England and Wales, seeking, among other remedies, an injunction barring the manufacture, sale, and use of Ocado’s infringing products in the United Kingdom, as well as monetary damages.

The complaint filed with the US International Trade Commission also names Printed Motor Works (of Hampshire, U.K.), an Ocado supplier, as a respondent.

Pioneering technology

“Since 1996, AutoStore has developed and pioneered technology that has revolutionized retail storage and order fulfillment, and is driving the growth of online retail,” said Karl Johan Lier, CEO and president of AutoStore.

“Our ownership of the technology at the heart of Ocado’s warehousing system is clear. 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.”

In the AutoStore system, storage bins are stacked vertically in a grid and stored in a cubic structure, with the bins retrieved by robots that travel on the top of the structure. AutoStore currently supports more than 500 installations and 18,000 robots across 30 countries, serving markets from grocery and healthcare to aviation for customers including ASDA (UK), Best Buy (USA), and Lufthansa (Germany).  Ocado too is an AutoStore customer, having first purchased AutoStore technology in 2012.

Ocado built on AutoStore technology

According to the AutoStore complaint, Ocado’s infringement of AutoStore’s AS/RS intellectual property – including the storage system and robots – is the foundation on which the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) was built and on which Ocado’s business today is based.

AutoStore further alleges that Ocado infringes the AutoStore patented technology, deploying it in Customer Fulfillment Centers (CFCs) for its own online grocery business and for its customers, such as Morrisons in the U.K. Ocado also entered into a partnership with Kroger (US) in 2018 to establish up to 20 CFC sites in the U.S. based on AutoStore’s patented technology.

The patent infringements that AutoStore cites include: those relating to the fundamental central cavity design of the AS/RS robots; the arrangement of the lifting mechanism that enables those robots to lift and place bins in their cavities; and the robots’ in-wheel motors.

A court in Norway has already found that AutoStore is entitled to ownership of its patents covering the robots’ central cavity technology.