IRobot Corp. said it lost its bid to block upstart SharkNinja Operating LLC from selling what it calls a cheaper knockoff of its popular Roomba i7+ robotic vacuum cleaner while a patent-infringement lawsuit proceeds.
The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston, came after iRobot argued that SharkNinja was copying patented features so it could undercut the i7+ by more than half its price just as the holiday shopping season approaches. IRobot said it was disappointed in the decision but is "fully committed to achieving a successful outcome" on both patent claims and a false-advertising allegation.
"We believe strongly in the strength of our patents and in our case against Shark, and the court action will continue to trial on multiple iRobot patents," iRobot said in a statement. "During the preliminary injunction hearing, Shark was forced to admit that its widespread claims that the Shark IQ Robot offers the same technological features as iRobot's Roomba i7+ are untrue."
SharkNinja called the effort "an attempt to dominate the robotic vacuum cleaner market and eliminate more affordable options for consumers." SharkNinja said it knew of iRobot's patents and specifically designed around them. The company said the judge had "substantial questions" as to whether the Shark infringed two iRobot patents.
Burroughs issued a sealed order and opinion, saying they contained information that the companies had filed with her under seal. She gave no indication how she had ruled or the reasons behind it. The judge told the parties to propose redactions by Dec. 13, according to a notice on the court docket.
IRobot of Bedford, Mass., had asked that the Shark IQ be removed from the market "at the earliest possible date" without waiting for a trial. At a Nov. 13 hearing, iRobot accused SharkNinja of purposely copying features of the iRobot and then telling consumers the Shark is better than the Roomba.
Investors have grown wary about iRobot's ability to grow its $1 billion in annual sales, particularly since the company gets half its revenue in the busy holiday shopping season. The company already is suffering as domestic sales have gotten caught up in the U.S. trade war with China. In October, the company abandoned plans to pass along tariff-related costs because it was hampering growth.
For American shoppers, the price difference is significant even without the tariffs. The Roomba i7+ sells for $999.99 on the company's U.S. website; the Shark IQ Robot is for sale for $449.40 on SharkNinja's site. The box touts that the Shark IQ has "more suction than the best-selling iRobot Roomba."
The legal battle is over some of the patented features that made the i7+ one of Time magazine's inventions of the year in 2018. It maps the customer's home, schedules sweeps through each room, empties the dust bin itself and even knows where to resume cleaning after it has returned to its base for a recharge.
SharkNinja, a unit of closely held EP Midco LLC, denied using the inventions, and argued that iRobot was unlikely to win the case at trial.
IRobot has suffered as its domestic sales, which account for about half of its total revenue, have gotten caught up in the U.S. trade war with China. Analysts have grown cautious about the company, citing Shark's aggressive pricing.
IRobot has been successful in using its patents against other competitors, while SharkNinja has prevailed against another formidable rival, Dyson Inc., whose patent-infringement allegations it defeated in 2018.
Information in this article was contributed by Janelle Lawrence of Bloomberg News.
SundayMonday Business on 12/01/2019
Print Headline: IRobot loses round in battle with Shark