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Microsoft Rallies Behind DJI in Drone Litigation with Autel Robotics

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Microsoft Rallies Behind DJI in Drone Litigation with Autel Robotics

In a rarity, U.S. International Trade Commission will now have to look into a patent infringement complaint related to drone technology. Reports from the website MSPoweruser.com reveal that Autel Robotics has petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission to ban imports of models of DJI’s Phantom, Mavic, Spark and Inspire drones made in China by DJI. DJI competitor Autel Robotics’ complaint accuses DJI of infringing its patents on following a flight path while avoiding obstacles, rotor assembly, and a way to switch out battery packs to minimize lag time between flights. Howeverm Microsoft has rallied in support of DJI by selling the company a portfolio of 30 patents which patent site IAM-Media believes will bolster its defence against Autel.

Microsoft which has previously partnered with leading China-based drone company DJI several times and has now announced that they will release a new SDK that will bring full flight control and real-time data transfer capabilities to hundreds of millions of Windows 10 PCs.

Drones are expected to become a massive business, with a DJI dominated  market believed to already be worth $4.4 billion in 2018,  Microsoft is working alongside DJI to provide the cloud-based back-end for the flying computers. DJI has chosen Azure as its preferred cloud provider for their commercial drone and SaaS solutions.

DJI and Microsoft are also planning to co-develop solutions leveraging Azure IOT Edge and Microsoft’s AI services to enable new scenarios across various industries including Agriculture, Construction, Public Safety and more.

In this case involving Autel Robotics’ petition, DJI’s most popular drone named the DJI Phantom is the main topic of the disput. Autel’s main clause in the dispute is that DJI and the use of patented features for following a flight path while avoiding obstacles, rotor assembly as well as the way to switch out battery packs and minimize lag time between flights have all been taken from Autel’s patents. Apart from this, Autel also wants the US International Trade Commission to ban the imports of DJI drones and the models such as Phantom, Mavic, Spark and Inspire – as they are made in China by DJI.

The complaint alleges violations of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. 1337) in the importation into the United States, the sale for importation, and the sale within the United States after importation of certain unmanned aerial vehicles and components thereof.

Autel, contends in the complaint that banning DJI from selling drones in the US will “likely improve the competitive conditions” in the market by providing numerous opportunities for others, such as Autel, Yuneec International Co. and Parrot SA.

It is rare for a federal court to block sales, even those involving competing products (or services). However, if the trade commission finds the products infringing US patents and issues an import ban, the agency could allow sales to continue for public interests – such as agricultural needs. Drone hobbyists might not be high on priority though.

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