Update on December 26, 2019: Anki’s assets have been acquired by edtech startup Digital Dream Labs. Read Story.
Anki, the once-popular consumer robotics company that went out of business in April 2019, is being sued by StretchTech LLC for patent infringement. The lawsuit (PDF), filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Anki’s Vector robot infringes on three audio-related patents from StretchTech, which is operating under the company name Waxx Technologies.
StretchTech has alleged that Anki’s Vector robot infringes on the following three patents:
- U.S. Patent No. 9,913,054 — System and method for mapping and displaying audio source locations (issued to StretchTech on March 6, 2018
- U.S. Patent No. 9,042,563 — System and method to localize sound and provide real-time world coordinates with communication (issued to StretchTech on May 26, 2015)
- U.S. Patent No. 8,704,070 — System and method for mapping and displaying audio source locations (issued to StretchTech on April 22, 2014)
In the lawsuit, StretchTech said, “Since 2012, StretchTech has dedicated significant resources to developing and perfecting its sound sourcing technology. From its inception, StretchTech has been focused on enhancing the hearing capabilities of machines and computers to create the most natural way of communicating with technology. StretchTech’s patented proprietary hardware and software identify the locations of sound in any 3D space, giving computers similar functionality to the human ear.”
StretchTech claimed that the alleged acts of infringement “will continue to damage StretchTech irreparably.” The company is seeking damages that are in “no event less than a reasonable royalty” it would be paid to license the three aforementioned patents.
Anki not responding
StretchTech said it sent a letter to Anki on Nov. 19, 2018, about the alleged patent infringement, but Anki never responded. The company then sent a follow-up letter on Jan. 18, 2019, in an effort to forge a strategic partnership. Anki responded this time, but it was not interested in discussing a licensing agreement, according to StretchTech.
StretchTech filed the complaint on June 7, 2019. Of course, since Anki is no longer in business, it has yet to respond to the complaint and any communications from StretchTech. Because Anki is no longer in business and not responding, StretchTech requested on July 31 that the conference be adjourned or delayed, but that application was denied (PDF) by Judge William H Pauley III.
The initial pre-trial conference is scheduled to take place on Aug. 15 at 11:30 AM.
This is not the first time Anki has been involved in a patent infringement lawsuit. In 2015, Anki was on the other side of the coin. Anki sued China Industries Ltd. for willful patent infringement in March, but the companies settled, and the case (PDF) was dismissed in December 2015.
SVB owns Anki’s IP
Anki, which was founded in 2010, raised more than $200 million in venture capital funding. It also made nearly $100 million in revenue in 2017 and expected to exceed that figure in 2018.
Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has had a security interest in Anki’s copyrights, patents, and trademarks since March 30, 2018. Anki had to put up its IP as collateral to receive a loan from SVB.
A lawyer who specializes in IP and wished to remain anonymous recently told The Robot Report Anki’s agreement with SVB was likely its “last option if it couldn’t raise further equity investment.” The source also said it’s very unlikely a major company would purchase the assets due to all of Anki’s prior struggles.
A former Anki employee told The Robot Report that a strategic partnership, which could have bridged the gap to the next robot, “fell through at the last minute.”
Unfortunately, Anki’s demise is very similar to Jibo’s. Jibo’s assets were acquired by New York-based investment management firm SQN Venture Partners in June 2018.
Anki co-founder Boris Sofman was recently hired by Waymo to lead its autonomous trucking efforts.
The Robot Report has launched the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo focuses on improving the design, development and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum.